Monday, February 4, 2013

Album Review: Matt Pond - The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hands

Album Grade: C+
In the last few years, the concept of the singer-songwriter has become corrupted. Yes, there are still solo performers, think Iron & Wine, who’s “my car and my guitar” ideologies are undeniable. But, more often than not, it’s performers- Stephen Christian, Dallas Green and Andy Hull all tangible examples- who enjoyed varying amounts of success with more rock-inclined groups that have been breaking into the genre. Even among this group though, Matt Pond stands out. His group, Matt Pond PA, of which he was one of two permanent members, never produced much discussion nor received much exposure aside from their cover of Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” that aired on an episode of “The O.C.” He's far from the new archetype of singer-songwriter side projects. 

One could make the argument that dropping the ‘PA’ from his banner is unnecessary, but the truth is that it’s mostly symbolic. The stripped-down sound of The Lives inside the Lines in Your Hand is keenly different from the occasionally powerful drums and guitars that Matt Pond PA incorporated. Flying solo, Pond cedes no part of the spotlight: the focal point is always his vocals. Keyboards are used to accent or introduce, the guitar is frequently relegated to chords played at intervals, although there is a Kinsella-inspired riff on “Love to Get Used,” and the drums are typically apparent only when Pond would be otherwise a capella. Compared to Matt Pond PA, who often experimented with rockabilly and indie-pop, this is a completely different band.

It would be a mistake, however, to call this a minimalist album. Although the music takes a back seat, the soundscape is undeniably lush. The precise timing of certain elements, such as the keyboard motif on “Let Me Live” that sweetens the pre-chorus, is critical to the success of the album. Over the course of the album these little instances- deftly layered vocals in the background here, a perfectly timed piano chord there- begin to add up and perhaps show why Pond was eager to set out on his own. In his group, there were few times where one could appreciate the beauty of just one note. On The Lives inside the Lines in Your Hand, the arrangement seems stark at first glance but reveals itself to be surprisingly deep.

Ironically, the music on the album outshines Matt Pond himself- the precise opposite of the intended effect. Pond, who seems to relish in being as inoffensive as possible, is very low on charisma, his smarmy delivery and predictable lyrics alike hinder his likeability, and his range is nearly non-existent. When compared to the beauty of the music behind him, Pond is very lackluster- he doesn’t provide the same moments of beauty that the instruments do, only a foreground of samey mumbling. His background vocals, beautiful and intense in their layering, and peppy shouts of “oh!” are some the vocal highlights. Otherwise, Pond sounds his best when he doesn’t sound like himself; the chorus of “Love to get Used” finds him channeling Dallas Green, “Strafford” might be what Bon Iver would sound like if he wrote for a Starbucks commercial.

The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand is a great introductory indie album if nothing else. It conforms to all of the accepted stereotypes of an indie album and doesn’t try to break any new ground, aside from giving Pond a better theater to strut his stuff. It’s very cookie-cutter material, steeped in allusions to nature and long-gone lovers, with technical beauty ultimately proving more important than the man who made it. So, was this worth being released under the Matt Pond banner? Sure, but was it worth making in the first place? Probably not.  
1. Let Me Live
2. Love to Get Used
3. Starlet
4. When the Moon Brings Silver
5. Where the Leaves Go
6. Bring Back the Orchestra
7. Hole in My Heart
8. Human Beings
9. The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand
10. Strafford

1 comment:

  1. This is rad! Love Matt Pond and especially love the new record