Thursday, November 10, 2005

Matt Pond PA/Several Arrows Later/4.0

maybe Pond really is just another ordinary-guy exemplar of the ongoing post-Coldplay adult contemporarization of indie

A coffee shop in town makes a remarkable grilled cheese sandwich – homemade wheat bread with slices of cheddar and thin slices of Granny Smith apples. This time of year, the apples are freshly picked from the Shenandoah Valley just 100 miles away, bestowing on the sandwich their full range of tartness and flavor. That sandwich combined with a cup of foaming latte is one of the perfect autumn lunches. However, I am also a fan of the plain-old homemade grilled cheese with processed cheese, mushy grocery store bread and margarine. It’s a sandwich that’s seen me through childhood, university, a couple of years of temp jobs and many bowls of soup. Matt Pond PA’s latest CD is a grilled cheese sandwich sort of album. Regrettably, PFM’s review of Several Arrows Later seems to fault the album for its lack of exotic ingredients while missing the delights of basic ingredients put together appealingly.

I do give the review credit for listening through the album and properly comparing it to Pond’s previous work. Several Arrows Later covers little new ground for Matt Pond lyrically or musically. There are love songs sung to his beloved and quotidian observations while walking through the city. There are gentle steady drumming, strummed guitars, and flourishes of strings. Tracks from Emblems would blend in between tracks from Several Arrows Later with little problem. If you are looking for challenging listening, this album does not have it. However, all of the cuts have an undeniable pop sheen. Unsurprisingingly, the first time I played a track on my radio show someone complimented me on it. On an individual track basis, the record will grab many listeners.

Now, because Matt Pond PA does their one thing exclusively and intensely, I can see how that one thing might not be to some listeners’ tastes. However, it’d be nice if Pitchfork had some system where reviewers could just wave away a CD that wasn’t their thing. Pitchfork’s compensation structure probably doesn’t encourage that kind of thing from its writers.

Based on past reviews, it seems that PFM can’t restrain themselves from giving Matt Pond PA a bad review. For example, PFM quotes the line “Heard it's modern to be stupid” and points out its inconsistency with another line in another song. The line ain’t the greatest lyric in Rock history. However, the key is in its delivery – even, calm, only letting the melody give the slightest sense of disdain. In fact, Matt Pond’s singing relies on the melody far more than his delivery to carry the emotion of the lyrics. While this makes the singing less dynamic, it allows the melody to stand out more.

Putting aside my defense of this record, Several Arrows Later is not a contender for album of the year. While Matt Pond PA do what they do well, they’re still doing the same thing as their previous albums. I’d give this something hovering around the 6.5 range. If you’re a Matt Pond PA fan, buy this album. If you’re looking for something poppy and easy, but are short on scratch, you can spend your money better this fall.

Lastly, the quip about “a newly savvy freshperson .. in Dad's Lexus RX that first Thanksgiving home” sounds more like someone gripping about urban parking than an insight about the music. I’ve met enough interesting people with unexpected tastes in music, that I’ve come to disdain using music to label folks as much as I dislike other facile labels about people. I’m also frustrated at attempts to link music to “lifestyle marketing”. While I think PFM’s comment reveals a similar disgust, it reinforces the assumption that our choices about real aesthetics – art, literature, film and music – must mesh into our tastes about consumer goods – cars, coffee and clothes.