One of the joys of Molly Siegel’s “speaking in tongues” approach to vocals—only on occasion is a line or two of lyric actually recognizable as part of the English language—is that it allows the listener to interpret Ponytail however he or she sees fit. For me, the most discernable word that jumps out of the band’s giddy mix time and again on its third album is a joyful cry of “One!” And that’s fitting, since this Baltimore quartet is at heart a proudly defiant declaration of pride in one’s individuality: I am who I am, and I’m here to trumpet that!
Songs such as “Beyondersville/Flight of Fancy” and “Music Tunes” meander more and overstay their welcome a bit more quickly than those on the group’s last disc “Ice Cream Spiritual” (2008). But given that many fans feared that the band’s subsequent year-long hiatus would be permanent—guitarist Dustin Wong has been making solo music for Chicago’s Thrill Jockey label, and drummer Jeremy Hyman has been playing with the Boredoms—it’s good to have the group back, even if it doesn’t quite match its peak to date.
The best moments here—the opening “Easy Peasy,” “AwayWay,” and “Honey Touches”—deliver plenty of what makes the band great: those effervescent, endlessly melodic, intertwining, and vaguely Afrobeat/sorta shoegazer guitar lines; the rolling, off-kilter drum patterns that invoke Captain Beefheart crossed with Battles, and of course Siegel’s vocals, which I’ve never been able to better describe than I did the first time I saw the band at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2009: Think of Yoko Ono and Bjork dueting on the part of the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” where they make the sounds of the stingray and the narwhal, and you’ll still only be about half way there.
On the four-star scale: 3.5 STARS
STILL IN HEAVY ROTATION
Le Butcherettes, “Sin Sin Sin” (Rodriguez Lopez Productions)
Raphael Saadiq, “Stone Rollin’” (Columbia)
Bewitched Hands, “Birds and Drums” (Look Mum No Hands)
Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues” (Sub Pop)
Beastie Boys, “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” (Capitol)
tUnE-yArDs, “WHOKILL” (4AD)
Gorillaz, “The Fall” (Virgin)
Clive Tanaka, “Jet Set Siempre No. 1”
The Feelies, “Here Before” (Bar None)
TV on the Radio, “Nine Types of Light” (Interscope)
Lykke Li, “Wounded Rhymes” (Atlantic)
Screeching Weasel, “First World Manifesto” (Fat Wreck Chords)
Lupe Fiasco, “Lasers” (Atlantic)
Lucinda Williams, “Blessed” (Lost Highway)
Radiohead, “The King of Limbs” (self-released)
Drive-By Truckers, “Go-Go Boots” (ATO)
North Mississippi Allstars, “Keys to the Kingdom” (Songs of the South)
Smith Westerns, “Dye It Blonde” (Fat Possum)
The Decemberists, “The King Is Dead” (Capitol)