Ponytail's Dustin Wong creates a record of appreciable technical skill, sure, but one that really succeeds in its warmth and sense of open-armed invitation.
Dustin Wong’s band Ponytail went surprisingly far on a thin formula of musical ebullience and singer Molly Siegel’s stuttering, overly caffeinated vocals. Wong’s complex guitarwork likely had something to do with that success, too, though Siegel generally stole the show, both live and in reviews. Now, with Ponytail on hiatus, Wong has begun performing and recording solo. The latest result of his efforts comes in the form of Infinite Love, a two-disc album also packaged with accompanying DVD that promises a visual experience in addition to that of the music. That last bit of promotional material is important in understanding Wong’s attitude toward his burgeoning solo career. He’s clearly trying to create something immersive, something as layered and complicated as Ponytail was immediate and saccharine.
Infinite Love presents itself as two album-length compositions, both distinct from the other, but meant to also seem mutually complementary when taken as a whole. Wong calls them “Sister” and “Brother”, fraternal twin siblings that share a clear musical makeup. Both versions of the album open and close with the same song -- or, as Wong would likely have it, movement -- so that the difference comes in how the two records progress in their middle sections. Aside from the occasional drum machine, the entirety of Infinite Love consists solely of Wong’s guitar, looped and filtered and delayed into, all right, infinity. He layers bits of riffs and hooks with more atmospheric effects to create a swirling blanket of sound, always changing but never abrasive or jarring.
Generally, Wong plucks out a simple staccato melody for a few bars, before slowly dropping other melodies and tones on top of that foundation. Chords rarely make an appearance, with Wong opting instead to move up and down the neck of his guitar to find the right knotty snippets of soloing around which to shape his music. The digital and CD versions of Infinite Love do come replete with track IDs and song breaks, handy if a particular melody grabs one’s attention and warrants replaying. Still, the broader appeal of the record comes from viewing it as just that: a record, in the classic sense, meant to be taken as a whole in a single sitting.
That experience is, in a word, pleasant. Wong doesn’t shoot for a broad emotional palate on Infinite Love. He doesn’t concern himself with making dramatic and dynamic music, full of cathartic release. Rather, in a similar manner to his work in Ponytail, he seems to simply want to give his listeners a good time. Both “Sister” and “Brother” work as feel good music, their bouncing melodies and hazy washes of distortion bringing out the dopamine almost as much as the psychedelic experience that Wong says inspired the album’s title. Neither record seems better than the other, as each proves transportive in the same way: upbeat and soft-edged, smooth and gentle.
Infinite Love’s strength is its lack of presumptuousness. It doesn’t try to blow you away with technical skill; instead, Wong’s abilities become clear in a more subtle way, as he consistently coaxes new and fresh sounds from his guitar throughout the albums’ running times. Infinite Love is the kind of record that people will love in an appreciative, grinning sort of way, sidling up to it in the same sense that you might greet that person at a party who offers no existential conversation, but cheers you up on a Friday night. Those things are important to have around, too.