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Matt Pond PA
The Green Fury
Polyvinyl Records

I donít think Iíve ever heard a record like this. Well, maybe Iíve heard records kind of like this, but Matt Pond PAís The Green Fury, the third full-length from Matt Pondís unwieldy Pennsylvania collective, at first almost seems to have sprung full-formed from the head of Zeus, without precedent.

Matt Pond PA is an enigmatic ensemble that combines a strong singer/songwriter esthetic with lush instrumentation that includes cello, vibraphone, violin, trumpet, French horn, flute, and lap steel, along with the typical guitar/bass/drums/keys. The strings and other orchestral instruments are integrated into the arrangements and are not used as filigree, as they are on so many records that dare to use them. Pondís vocals have a decidedly British sound to them that reminds strongly of the Cureís Robert Smith. A cloud of delightfully self-indulgent melancholy, with its origins somewhere in the interaction between Pondís too-poetic-to-be-confessional lyrics and his delicate melodies, hangs over the bulk of the record.

Given that description, it is clear that my first impression that this record, this sound, is completely unprecedented is probably false. In fact, because of the lush instrumentation, the bittersweet ethos, and the anglophilia of Matt Pond PAís sound, it might be tempting to pile the group onto the chamber pop mound, and there is certainly a great deal of this record that might compare to some of the best of that genre, most notably Belle & Sebastian. But, as always, thereís more to it than that. Pondís songwriting and production (with brilliant Philly fixture, Brian McTear) also has a lot in common with that unique brand of highly wrought and highly intriguing dirge pop that was brought to us in the 90s by New Zealanders Peter Jefferies, his brother, Graeme, and their collaborative the Cakekitchen (which almost always included the brilliant pop violinist, Alastair Galbraith). For examples of this, check the doubled vocals on the incredibly brief and beautiful "Neighborís New Yard" and "This Is Montreal". Neither would comparisons to Nick Drakeís occasionally baroque melancholia be unwarranted, particularly in tracks such as "City Plan" and the almost upbeat "Promise The Bite".

The standout track on this record, however, sounds like none of those. In fact, it is one of the most original sounding tracks here. "A Part Of The Woods" is a confident, spirited waltz that may remind you of Wilcoís brilliant "Via Chicago". In fact, the strongest tracks on the record (include the slightly more tentative "Jefferson" and the lovely, lap-steel laced "It Becomes Night") are all waltzes. I canít put my finger on what it is that makes these tracks jump off the acetate, but Pond and company really seem to hit their stride in the 3/4 and 6/8 meters with self-assurance and effusiveness that does not appear in the other tracks.

Much of the rest of the album, though beautifully intriguing, is so tentative, inscrutable, and introverted that it seems as if the group was reluctant to commit it to record. This is not to say that the timidity of the music is not effective and captivating. In fact, the Matt Pond PA aesthetic would not be the same if it came with a cocksure, scarf-on-the-mic-stand swagger. Quiet desperation is best conveyed in hesitant whispers, and Matt Pond PA has mastered the musical equivalent.

-Eryc Eyl

Track Listing:

  1. Canadian Song
  2. Measure 3
  3. Neighborís New Yard
  4. City Plan
  5. Promise The Bite
  6. Silence
  7. This Is Montreal
  8. A Part Of The Woods
  9. A New Part Of Town
  10. Jefferson
  11. Crickets
  12. It Becomes Night
  13. Copper Mine

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