Review Summary: Kind of like the soundtrack to soda
You’re eight or nine-ish. You’ve invited some friends over, and your parents are kind of cool so they bring out snacks for you and your friends while they stay. Devouring candy like ravenous fiends, you get energetic so you and your friends decide to paint the furniture with chocolate prints, cheese dust, and spilled drinks. You’re off the walls, hyperactive and wild, everyone in the room on a quasi-rampage that involves running around in circles and not being able to focus on one activity for more than a few seconds. Sugar rush.
If you look up ‘sugar rush’ in Google, it leads you to the Wikipedia disambiguation page, which in turn leads you to brief definition of ‘sugar rush’ in an article called ‘List of Common Misconceptions’. “Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children,” the wiki blurb states rather flatly. So, it wasn’t the sugar? No, it was more likely the power of suggestion. You eat the sugary snacks and go wild because your friends are going wild and you’re expected to after eating a bowl of bargain brand chocolates and drinking a gallon of soda. Ponytail, in the fashion that all good acts do, inspires you, suggesting you with that primal hyperactivity that you've probably experienced as youth. Ice Cream Spiritual is an aptly named, aural cascade of candied sounds.
A four-piece band from Maryland known for being sugar incarnate both in studio and out, Ponytail had a brief musical stint between 2005-2011 before succumbing to boredom and the desire to focus on other things according to an official press release from the band’s manager. And listening to Ice Cream Spiritual, that almost sounds like the only way they could’ve broken up. It’s an album that seems more thrown together the way a finger painting is than anything that involves the word ‘compose’, and God bless Ponytail for it. Brisk, full-force guitar work, energetic and rounded drum work, and an infectious zest to their songs that draws you into their summery, complexly simple world on nonsensical vocals aesthetics and surfer-cum-art rock. Dissonant instrumental affectations, feedback, and the immediate appeal of pop songs all lace the album neatly under the bow of 'noise pop', but to simply apply genres in describe Ice Cream Spiritual would be a great disservice to the music on display. It's approachable yet experimental, with the strangest aspect of Ponytail's music largely coming from the vocal department.
That’s probably the biggest flaw with the album however. Molly Siegel, who now goes by Willy Siegel, is the lead and singular vocalist for Ice Cream Spiritual, and to call their vocals ‘untraditional’ is probably somewhat of unjust. You're half way there in imagining someone wailing and squeaking into the microphone without any proper lyrics, rhyme or reason. Well, there’s indeed reason here to the chant-like yelps and quips, but largely it’s unstructured screaming. This works for and against the album in many ways. In ‘7 Souls’ for example, the vocals are layered just so that it sounds like primates ooking at one another, and then goes into chanting numbers and what sounds like ‘saw’. Then they yell in and out for a while as a crash of guitar-on-guitar action abounds, provided by Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno. Siegel’s vocals certainly contribute to the energy and carefree nature of the album, but at times they become simply too much to enjoy.
Songs here tend to drone, but the album is seemingly meant as more of background music than anything that requires serious investment. The instrumental action here is fairly simple but effectively so, producing high-voltage soundscapes that feel at the same time inviting and dangerous, again in the way that a child looks at a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. That might actually be the best way to describe this album. ‘Childish’ without any sort of negative connotation there. Song titles have cutesy, purposefully misspelled titles like ‘Beg Waves’ and ‘Small Wevs’, or more overtly nostalgic names like ‘Late for School’, a song in which ‘pchoo’ is practically a lyrical refrain. It’s sugary, it’s bombastic, it’s equal parts simple and complex, and it works despite its more obvious points of questionability. You might end up with a toothache should the power chords and vocals grate on you, but for those with a bigger sweet tooth, there’s a lot to love.