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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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Review of the Day

Nina Nastasia, "Run To Ruin"
Touch and Go
These songs make me into another person. I'm a criminal, then a scared little boy, and the next minute I'm the loner walking through the desert with a storm at my back. Nina Nastasia forces me to assume these roles with her voice in my ear and her guitars cutting down at me like vicious slaps. One minute I'm in quiet solitude, hiding in a thicket and the next I'm being whipped around by a squall bursting with lightning and unexhaustable power. Run to Ruin is just that: powerful and excited. Nastasia's voice is absolutely entrancing and the instrumentation is a fluid swarm of acoustic strumming, near-classical arrangements, and cabaret-styled, instrumental passages. "We Never Talked" starts the album as the perfect preface. Nastasia's lyrics are somewhat vague and manage to evoke a sense of wonder and mystery in every song, but especially on the opener. "In the car, you'd have brought it up / But I went on about that job / All the love I have left you won't know / All the fear I have left you won't know." The way it's sung puts a knot in my stomach every time... and then the storm begins. "I Say That I Will Go" is a story about keeping a promise. It has a deliciously twisted ending that suggests all sorts of mischievousness. Violins, cellos, banjo, dulcimer, piano, and some distinctive drumming from Jim White of Dirty Three drift, collide, and wail with Nastasia's excellent story-telling and clear, graceful, and at times absolutely earth-shattering voice. Though the album runs at just over thirty minutes long, each song is full of character and developed completely. There's more variety on Run to Ruin than on most albums that last twice as long. "The Body" begins like an imitation-baroque piece and "On Teasing" sounds like a tale told by gypsies around camp fire; it features an instrumental duel that sounds as if it comes from the spirit world. "You Her and Me" creates a hybrid sound that holds country and folk music dear to the heart but is much more bare and delicate. Despite all the acoustic and familiar instruments used, this is a unique album with a myriad of styles and alien melodies. Every time I play this record, it's like being transported to another world. Not one song is disposable and after the album stops, I have this incredible urge to play it again just so I can drift away.

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