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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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Tara Jane O'Neil

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Review of the Day

"No Watches, No Maps"
While the Fat Cat people boast about their committment to introducing fresh new artists, they've played the game relatively safe for their entire existence. A successful record label has to establish themselves pretty much before they can make bold moves like this one, releasing a CD comprised entirely of demos received by the label from complete unknowns. Fat Cat established themselves by releasing an assortment of buzzworthy 12" split singles, sneaking in a relatively unknown act on one side with an established act on the other side. In sales it's called the "foot in the door technique" — now that we've got your attention, try this! The label's intentions are well and this technique sure paid off.
Conceived over two years ago, this collection gathers 74 minutes of people you most likely have never heard of, many of which will probably not surface again. While Fat Cat have pointed out that they love all of these songs, limitations of the label have only allowed them time, budget and manpower to do full releases of a couple, two of which Com.A and Duplo Remote have tracks appearing here. The collection is surprisingly impressive, starting off with the brief abrasive noise of QT?, continuing on with glitch electronica Autechre worshipping sound of Phluidbox, the sci-fi death theme sounds from Jetone and pentatonic Asian taste of Zooey. By the time it reaches the slick production of the instrumental Fridge-ish jam, Ukiyo-E's "Val Doonican," the grand scope of the collection is shifted, transforming it from a collection of random electronics to something more. At this point, the compilation of unknowns begins to strangely mirror a well-constructed soundtrack or an 80s-era cassette-only comp. Changes continue when the pounding abrasive head nodding track from Moneyshot bursts in, a melancholy piano piece from Beans arrives a few tracks later, followed by more electronic and organic contributions including the gorgeous low-tempo submission from Cytokine.
While each of the 19 songs on here are quality work, it's easy to tell that all of these artists are still in the infancy of their careers, with much more to learn about originality, composition and production. Much like releases like the "Rising from the Red Sand" comps for example, I'm predicting this disc will become one of those collectable references on discographies popping up years from now. On the horizon for the label is a section on their website with exchanges of music like this and hopefully more collections.

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