Having made the transition to major labeldom fairly painlessly, the Ass Ponys continue on their odd little road effectively with Universe. Cleaver's quivery voice and tweaked view of the universe both remain intact, while Curley once again mans the production board to good effect. The band as a whole also sounds perfectly poised between good rock stuff and slightly warped presentation. The first song sets the overall tone perfectly: "Shoe Money" has a nicely off mid-song breakdown, while one line notes a graffito reading "Satin live in hell," concluding "his disciples sure can't spell." Religion and death actually form something of a semi-theme throughout the album; while not a concept album or anything, the Ponys definitely are looking to apply their magnifying glass to fractured, unsure situations big and small. "God Tells Me To" is especially tweaked in this regard, a pretty piano/guitar main melody and sweetly rocking performance supporting lines describing burning ants with magnifying glasses and concluding "I only hurt because I think of you, and I only kill because God tells me to." "And She Drowned" is metaphorical, referring to getting lost in past memories stirred up, but no less effective for that, while the music even breaks into a funky breakbeat for a bit. Other moments capture more general doubt and uncertainty, often delivered with a lovely, fragile beauty that is perhaps the Ponys' most underrated, attractive feature. "Dead Fly the Birds," with Cleaver in a fine falsetto over a slow band arrangement, captures a gnawing, uncertain fear with quiet grandeur, while "It's Summer Here," though musically a confidently chugging rocker, celebrates the season with descriptions of headless turtles' blood draining onto the grass and barbers burning hair. Never ones to take the easy way around things, on Universe the Ponys continue their unique look at American life with aplomb.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett