Music

Art School Confidential

Ponytail's Victory Lap

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It only takes one listen of Ponytail to leave a lasting impression. The Baltimore quartet makes music of pure physicality, packed to the brim with zooms, swerves, skids, stops, lurches, hurtles, and dives. The twin guitar attack of Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno locks firmly in step with Jeremy Hyman's drums, coasting on a pipeline that crests over the thickly trilled surf guitar of Dick Dale, with occasional zigzags into the hammer-on riffs of Eddie Van Halen. On top of everything, vocalist Molly Siegel makes all manner of noises from chirps to shrieks, buzzes to barks, giggles to wails—almost everything but singing.

It's not surprising that the band began, as so many bands have begun before, in art school. "Half of the reason I wanted to attend art school was to start a band," says Wong. "Bands like Talking Heads and Lightning Bolt started in art school and they were both bands that I really admire." In fact, the group first came together as a class project at the Maryland Institute College of Art: "The assignment was to start a band and perform at the end of the semester," Wong says. "I think that was a good motivator to begin the band, but now it feels like a whole new creature."

Ponytail's second album, Ice Cream Spiritual, was released last year to considerable acclaim, and the record contains several moments of indelible ecstasy. Considering how artfully spiny the music is, and the sheer relentlessness of its speed-demon whip cracking—not to mention Siegel's inhuman squealing—it's amazing how inviting it manages to sound. Spiritual marks the refinement of an unconventional process that had its origins in the band's art school background. "When we're writing we always talk about parts of the song visually, like, 'Oh this sounds like a tunnel of flowers,' and such and such," says Wong, who until recently also played in the band Ecstatic Sunshine.

"Molly's vocals have really developed over the years," continues Wong. "It used to be a lot more screamy and raw. It was never a conventional beginning; on the contrary, it was a primal beginning."

Siegel explains: "When the band first started, I had no idea what I was going to do or play," she says. "For the first practice I was tinkering with a toy xylophone. I mentioned that I might want to sing, so Dustin suggested that we meet up privately at his house and jam. That was the first time I tried out doing something similar to what I do now. I was comfortable enough in that setting to try it. I've definitely been refining and changing since then."

The band's Portland show is a record release party of the wax incarnation of their first album, 2006's Kamehameha, which is seeing a vinyl release courtesy of Gaarden Records. It's the third release on Gaarden, a label run by Anthony Lambright of the band Madagascar. Lambright is a recent Portland transplant who knew Ponytail from his days in Baltimore.

With Ponytail's emerging success, it's an appropriate time to look back at their first effort. "It's a lot noisier then Ice Cream Spiritual and I think a lot rawer in structure and energy," Wong says. "It feels like an old record in a transformative state. The album cover is altered and the vinyl itself is white, and the label Ken designed looks really awesome! It's like our record went into a cocoon."

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