Ass Ponys – Electric Rock Music

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I didn’t need to have it spelled out for me, but it’s pretty clear by now – not even all the way through the “A”s – that I have a soft spot for weirdos. I remember encountering a law school classmate (a musician, no less), Paul, at Tower Records in New York, when I mentioned I was browsing the Ass Pony’s portion of the CDs, and having him ask rhetorically how he would explain to his mom that he was listening to a band called Ass Ponys. I did not question why he would be explaining his album collection to his mother but I guess the point was driven home that this was not mainstream material. Ass Ponys probably make some of the strangest music in my collection, despite following conventional song structures, having pretty straightforward instrumentation and arrangements, and hewing reasonably faithfully to melodiousness. But the subject matter and Chuck Cleaver’s voice are what ensure this group will never be making out under the bleachers. Cleaver generally put his keening warble to use in the service of songs about the lives of small town, Rust Belt misfits, though occasionally he ventures in the otherworldly, and his non-judgmental observations hone in on the humor – grim or otherwise – of this overlooked populace. This is infinitely more genuine than the beer commercial mythology peddled by mainstream country artists (recognizing that there is more than one authentic America (for example, the America of NWA or Los Lobos), anyway), and far more pleasant to listen to.

What I Think of This Album

The title is not misleading; this is electric rock music, even if none of it rocks in the mullett-and-Camaro, “let’s get drunk and break shit” sort of way. In fact, there is a lot of tasteful slide and pedal steel adding shading to Cleaver’s sketches, but fundamentally, yeah, this is rock.

“Grim” (oddly enough, the title of their preceding album – figures) sets the tone right away, with the heartbroken protagonist trying and failing to piss his born-again-Christian ex-girlfriend’s name on the road, his anguish punctuating the otherwise subdued proceedings. “Little Bastard” jubilantly rides a wah-wah wave, also culminating in urine-related humiliation, this time of the boy who chafes at his grandmother’s admittedly unkind nickname for him. “Place Out There” is a tale of mysterious happenings in the woods, with a great pedal steel foundation.

There is a song – funky and replete with ‘70’s riffage – about a “Wall Eyed Girl;” the desperate distraction of petty vandalism (“Ape Hanger”); kids fighting with (not over or about – with) a “Banlon Shirt;” and the quiet day of the easily pleased loner who sits in his underwear “listening to ‘The Weight’” (the chiming and bright “Live Until I Die”). “Peanut ‘93” appreciates the demure yet carnal daydreams of the titular Peanut (“When he finds a bottle / He imagines women drinking from it / What it looked like, how it sounded / Trickling down their throats”), with some fine fingerpicking. “Earth to Grandma” is a good-natured dig at an old woman’s handcrafted knickknacks (“a doll completely made of socks” and a “painted rock with google eyes”), photographs of which populate the booklet. “Gypped” is excellent and “Otter Slide” hints at the sadness of a couple, with more great guitar work. Naturally, Cleaver’s high voice is the perfect vehicle for these unique songs – both acquired tastes – and the virtuosic band gives each track exactly what it needs. We should all be so lucky.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Place Out There” manages to be humane while telling spooky short stories about alien visitation, birth defects, a woman who spontaneously combusts, and a missing scientist with an important evolutionary theory.

Release Date


The Cover Art

Not bad. I like the script a lot, and the contrasting color works well. The bubble with the album title isn’t great. The carved radish or whatever that is (probably not a radish, on second examination) is pretty cool.

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