Ass Ponys – The Known Universe

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

In a way, this was the album where the Ass Ponys grew up but also right before they became really depressing. Electric Rock Music was goofy and fun with an element of southern gothic, while here the focus is mostly on interpersonal losses and sadness, with fewer off-kilter elements. I missed the album that followed but on Lohio, the band went full morose with highly depressing tales of people beaten down by life who long ago lost all hope. That was too much. Here, the band got the balance right. Chuck Cleaver went on to form the excellent Wussy.

What I Think of this Album

On this album, Ass Ponys lose multi-instrumentalist John Erhardt and gain multi-instrumentalist Bill Alletzhauser, as well as a couple of syllables. The sound doesn’t change much – the band still does an excellent job providing the country-tinged soundtrack to Cleaver’s tales of the bizarre (“Your parrot, he mocks me”).

That said, the rural trailer-park aesthetic is toned down a bit. Sure, there are headless turtles on a line and a maggot-infested crow’s corpse and death by indigestion, but the emotional element of these songs is more present than on Electric Rock Music. Cleaver – using his falsetto to full effect – gets way more personal, with several references to regret and failed relationships.

For the most part, though, this album is about the musicianship. “Shoe Money” bounces in on a rubbery bass line and includes some guitar work borrowed from Dinosaur Jr. “Under Cedars and Stars” comes alive on a slide guitar part and an impressive solo. “God Tells Me To” has a clever descending piano part and a fantastic solo, while “Blow Oskar” traverses the square on martial drums. “And She Drowned” gives us an unexpected breakbeat with a nice distorted lead line. “Redway” is all rolling toms and an acoustic strum with a subtle organ in the background. Instrumental “French Muscleman” has a slight Latin undercurrent to the rhythm, with some lovely guitar figures. “It’s Summer Here” is a straightforward rocker with unexplained harmony vocals and more well-placed organ. The band kicks up an atonal storm on the spooky “Hagged,” but “Some Kind of Fun” is a quiet, humble, caring story of the confused and lost, with fine backing vocals again.

The Best Thing About This Album

The songs here are so evenly matched, picking a highlight is very difficult. I’ll go with “Under Cedars and Stars” but not with any sort of conviction.

Release Date

April 1996

The Cover Art

Fair to middlin’. The color scheme is awful and the concept is sort of boring, but they pull of the fake atlas look pretty well. The texture of the cover is nicely done and the stamped album title is also effective (though hard to read).

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