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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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aphex twin, "26 mixes for cash"
Warp
One of the better 1990s music trends was when the remix truly evolved into an art form. Artists like Meat Beat Manifesto, The Orb, and Autechre were some of the first who not only transformed a song into something almost completely new, but left their mark with a distinguishable sound that made the new version identifiably their own. While Richard D. James tended to follow more of the music trends than lead them (whether it was techno, ambient, drum and bass, breakcore or whatever terms hipsters, IDM listees, and record stores were coming up with that month) he excelled in the craft of transformation. A large percentage of Aphex Twin's popularity rose because of the remixes he did for then-popular worldwide acts like Nine Inch Nails, Jesus Jones, and Curve. (Another large percentage might arguably be chalked up to advertisement music, be on the lookout for 15 Ad Themes for Cash soon!) People bought 12" singles and CD singles in the early-mid 1990s because anything that had Aphex Twin printed on it was usually a sign of quality, and, no matter how little the original artist was liked, the remix would satisfy. 26 Mixes collects some of the more popular remixes along with some unreleased and scarely printed songs, arranged on two discs, with disc one containing more of the quiet stuff and disc two containing more of the beat-saturated loud stuff. It's an excellent document for those who aren't willing to pay high prices for things like the super-limited noodly Philip Glass/David Bowie track, are too embarassed to own a Jesus Jones record in their collection, or have absolutely no clue who Nav Katze, Mescalinum United, or Die Fantastischen Vier are and where to find them. It's not chronoligically arranged, but through the magic of programmable discs, the evolution can be charted, from the bashful, timid, faceless-era Richard D. James of 1990-92 through the "I have a bloody tank"-era Richard D. James of 2001. Fans will delight in the inclusion of two unreleased remixes: one from Selected Ambient Works 2 and a remix of Windowlicker (although shockingly not the one by V/Vm), but that Beck remix just didn't make cut. Maybe next time, Becky.

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