Matt Pond PA - The Dark Leaves
Record Label: Altitude
Release Date: April 13, 2010
With the bucolic imagery evoked by its title and cover art, you'd expect Matt Pond PA's latest release The Dark Leaves to veer in a particularly organic direction-- and you'd be right. The pieces of Matt Pond's musical puzzle have been present in one form or another pretty much all along, but this is the first time they've come together in quite this way. Pond's had a long-standing thing for strings, with his early records full of sophisticated cello lines that added a distinct chamber-pop feel. The occasional steel guitar slide also entered the mix, most notably and effectively on Several Arrows Later's remarkable "Halloween". This time out, though, these elements feel more prominent and are employed in a twangier, more rustic manner.
What hasn't changed about Pond's music is its lushness and soothing anaesthetic quality, and as always, it's so well-mannered it sometimes borders on sterility. Those finger-snaps that kick off "Starting", the bouncy keyboard line that closes it out, or the handclaps that propel "Running Wild" sound intended to keep you paying attention rather than to get you up and moving about. When he gets to "Specks", the album's strongest realization of breezy country-pop, you wonder if the bells and whistles that preceded it were even worth the effort. Stripped-down and pristine, the song fits Pond's sleepy nonchalance perfectly. Is it inventive or the least bit original? Nope. But gorgeous and flat-out awesome? Fuck yeah.
While nothing else quite hits on that level, The Dark Leaves is full of songs that go down with Pond's by-now unsurprisingly smooth sweetness. "Remains" and "Ruins" carry on the inoffensive indie-pop of Last Light. "Sparrows" touches on the mellow, autumnal British folk of Fairport Convention. And "Brooklyn Fawn", as its handle suggests, embodies the album's tug-of-war of the urbane and refined versus the pastoral and countrified. Again, it's here where Pond seems to have found his element. The sweeping strings and steel guitar whine provide the perfect backdrop for his type of intimate songs and they seem to bring some character out of his disinterested vocal delivery, which is lacking in his more antiseptic numbers.
After a decade and seven full-lengths into their career, Matt Pond PA seem to be at a bit of a crossroads. Certainly, The Dark Leaves is no less unassuming than anything else they've released, and about half of it is squarely in line with the material on their recent albums. What this album does have going for it are simply a few of Pond's most affecting songs, which seem to diverge from his penchant for penning overtly polite, innocuous pieces. You can count me as one who wouldn't feel the least bit upset if he gave up the stuffy Brooklyn act and took a leisurely stroll (how else would he go?) down that dusty path into alt-country territory and stayed there for good.