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Ponytail, "Themes For Cops"

Samuli Tanner has a suspicious and inscrutable way of doing things.  Most notably, the band name, album title, and cover art here are all suggestive of ugly, misanthropic scuzz rock (definitely not oddball hip-hop influenced experimentalism from Finland).  Then the album opens fairly straightforwardly (for about 30 seconds anyway), before quickly plunging down a rabbit hole of splintered surrealism.  Also, this album is only one very long track, unless you buy it from him on tour, in which case it is 27 extremely short ones.  Many of the tracks have police-themed titles, but I'll be damned if I can decipher any sort of thematic relation to the music.  I am decidedly flummoxed.

 

NB Research Digest

Ponytail is the solo project of one-half of Helsinki dubstep team Clouds (I thought I had never heard of them, but then I recognized their track from the most recent DJ/Rupture album).  Clouds are cleanly produced, structured, melodic, and heavily indebted to Jamaican music.  Ponytail is conspicuously none of those things.  This is likely due to Tanner's singularly eclectic inspirations: Charles Mingus, punk, and proto-industrial provocateur Pekka Airaksinen.  And, of course, Finnish agrarian folk music (which Tanner's family has been involved with for many generations).  Being a particularly ingenious and creative fellow, Tanner does not overtly borrow anything from the aforementioned artists; he merely plunders their aesthetic philosophies and applies them to his own ideas.

Themes For Cops is a pleasing and compellingly strange album, but it is very difficult to describe a constantly shifting and fragmented 34-minute song.  The only consistency is deep bass and dubstep/downtempo hip-hop drums.  Only the fact that they are there, of course. The actual rhythm/bass line tends to segue into something new every minute or so.  Sometimes it is danceable and locks into extremely ephemeral groove, but more often it sounds like I am listening to a dubstep tape that has been through a washing machine.  Fuzziness, odd wavering, warping, and off-kilter lurching abounds.  Not in a bad way though- more in a Boards of Canada/William Basinski kind of way.  

Tanner's musical palette is, to make a gross understatement, rather varied.  Electronic glitchery coexists with violins, accordions, lounge-y farfisa, neo-classical piano, and pop song snippets.  Making experimental music with a wide array of source material is not especially unique at this point, but Tanner does it in a particularly unclumsy fashion and largely avoids self-indulgence (and conclusively avoids pandering to listeners).  As alluded to earlier, nothing sticks around long enough to achieve any sort of lasting beauty or funkiness—Themes is more like fever dream in which a torrent of striking moments (ranging from sublime to crazy to unsettling) deluges the listener.  It is unlikely that anyone will ever say that this is their favorite album or anything, but Ponytail certainly will elicit much more inner commentary like "Hmm. that sounds cool.," "Was that snippet from a freaking Ladyhawke song?!?!!," or "Woah- what the hell is going on here?!?" than his contemporaries.

Themes For Cops compellingly makes the argument that you can get away with just about anything if you throw in some drums.  Many of the ruined and corrupted sounds here would be perfectly at home on a much more listener-hostile and uncompromisingly harsh album, but are rendered strangely palatable in this context.  Tanner has made a surprising and engrossing album- I vastly prefer this to his parent band.

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"HORSE HOSPITAL RADIO VOLUME THREE: THE TEMPLE OF THE THRILLER"
The Horse Hospital
The Horse Hospital has carved out a unique place among London's numerous arts venues, serving as central headquarters for the more eccentric fringes of the underground and avant-garde media and culture. They've hosted art exhibitions from the likes of Joe Coleman, Mark Ryden, David Tibet and Steven Stapleton, in-person readings from Peter Sotos and Adam Parfrey, as well as film screenings, DJ sets and live performances from various personages too numerous to mention. Recently they've expanded into experimental radio broadcast, hosting a fortnightly hour-long show on London's Resonance FM. The show reflects the obsession shared by The Horse Hospital's curators for pop-culture mashups, audio distortion, easy listening dimentia and transgressive musical forms. Far from the gimmicky "The Strokes meet Christina Aguilera" of Freelance Hellraiser or the bland over-processing of artists like Knifehandchop, Horse Hospital Radio is a sidereal window into our collective pop-culture imagination, performing a series of variable-speed exorcisms of the extreme ends of the musical spectrum. Programmed by the inimitable Mister Sloane, Horse Hospital Radio Volume Three is a free-form continuous DJ mix that plunges Johnny Mathis into a gas chamber, vents in the laughing gas and sprinkles the whole mess with dialogue snippets from George Ratliff's Hell House. Green Velvet's rave flashback is slowed down until it resembles a funereal psychedelic march into a zero-gravity rabbit hole. The siren sounds and the mix takes a sharp left turn into the joyful drum n' bass insanity of Lightning Bolt and a quick drop into the tweaking aggression of hardcore dancehall, and it's off into a hypnotic, 10-minute quagmire of 50 Cent's "In Da Club" genetically grafted onto the flip instrumental side of The Neptunes-produced "Grindin'" by The Clipse, pitched down and time-stretched to slow-motion tribal pummeling. Punk godfather Bertie Marshall pipes in with an abbreviated rap about his favorite prescription painkillers. These post hip-hop mutations come courtesy of The Penalty for Harbouring Partisans, partially the work of artist Ian Johnstone, John Balance of Coil's new partner in aesthetic terrorism. Jhon Balance can be heard towards the end of the track, blankly intoning "Nothing's too sad for words." Some uneasy digressions into grating noise and black metal follow, including a stunning marraige of The White Stripe's "Seven Nation Army" to the murky sludgecore of Sunn O))). Complete with bizarre shout-outs from Michael Jackson and Vincent Price, the whole thing washes over like passing out watching MTV on a lethal mix of Quaaludes and DMT. But more than that, it's able to reveal thrilling new dimensions of trash culture and extreme expression, pointing to a possible new direction for the cultural heirs of the post-industrial milieu.

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