I know exactly what you’re thinking — you’ve got some feels you need to take care of. This is not a time for dancing, no. This is a time for stewing about Really Important Things. All aboard, grab a mix CD from high school, next stop introspection station. All the greats are here: Mike Kinsella, David Bazan, Rocky Votalato, matt pond PA.
But hark! A Matt Pond record on a major label? And wherefore art thou, PA? Yep, Matt Pond, purveyor of emotional rock for some time now, has dropped the Pennsylvania suffix, settling into solo singer-songwriter territory after just shy of ten albums.
The mission statement remains clear: delve into the wrinkles of love and life. The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand isn’t reinventing the wheel; it’s an understated, gorgeously honest album, stylistically falling somewhere between Brendan Benson and The Appleseed Cast. And as the man himself says in the video below, it’s looking to find a little get-up-and-go somewhere in there, too. In other words: Matt Pond, matt pond pa, tomato, another way of saying tomato.
“Let Me Live,” a singalong power pop number, takes a few plays from Jukebox the Ghost at their best. If it weren’t for Pond’s unassuming (but relatable) vocal presence, it could be in a Windows 8 commercial. Our hero’s knack for dropping lyrical pearls like he’s embarrassed by them remains intact. You’re just going to sing “tracing silhouettes of lips” like it’s not arresting imagery, huh Pond?
The other hook-fest on Lives comes quickly with “Love To Get Used,” which rides the opening guitar riff like it’s a kite in Chi-Town. With tenacious rhythm and some rough edges, the track is either too sophisticated for radio or not polished enough for radio, depending on your perspective. It’s a triumph for dysfunctional love, though.
Elsewhere, Pond lingers on an Arcade Fire Lite sound, most apparently on “Go Where The Leaves Go” and “Bring Back The Orchestra.” What the songs lack in Roman Empire levels of orchestral excess they more than make up for in baroque moodiness. Less lush is “Hole In My Heart,” a fun nugget of 8-bit poetry with a Ra Ra Riot bent — kinda beautiful and kinda dancey.
First and foremost, Lives does what all the best Matt Pond projects do: find the sweet spot between melancholy and animation. (I like to imagine Pond jogging through a colorful flea market, but it’s starting to rain. And he’s frowning.) “Human Beings” does what all banjo songs should do — lay bare the frail, weak stains within us all. But, like, jauntily and stuff. The title track doubles down, sounding every bit like a cross-country road trip filled with regret (“There’s a world inside your palm I’ll never leave”). On “Strafford,” you’d be forgiven if you thought Ben Howard was making a cameo appearance. It’s suitably sexy, after all.
Give this one a few spins. It’s a grower. If it seems subtle and not at all remarkable, that might be because those things are true. It’s quiet, and it’s restrained. Take time to listen to the words, get lost in the melodies, and you’ll start to recognize all your own wrinkles.
(1) “Let Me Live”
(2) “Love To Get Used”
(7) “Hole In My Heart”
(9) “The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand”