Matt Pond PA Emblems

[Altitude; 2004]

Styles: indie pop, folk rock
Others: Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Iron and Wine

A week before the release of Emblems, Matt Pond PA's fifth full-length album, my roommate received an email from Pond himself giving him the latest on the band and what to expect from the upcoming record. Two key pieces of information from this email were shared with me, inciting curiosity and a bit of apprehension. The first was that Pond had finally overcome his fear of picking up an electric guitar. The second was that Pond had at long last lost "the chair."

Both of these referred to what had been key components of Matt Pond PA's unique live show. Pond could always be found sitting on a chair, stage left, strumming his acoustic guitar while facing Eve Miller, the group's cellist who sat directly across from him, while the other three members formed a triangle behind the two. This arrangement, which made you feel as if you were attending some sort of indie rock recital, perfectly suited Matt Pond PA's unique brand of textured, baroque pop and was an essential part of what made the band so appealing to me.

Mr. Pond's apparent new desire to stand up and rock out worried me. This change in performance surely reflected a similar one in songwriting, and that scared me a little.

Thankfully, my fears were mostly unfounded; Emblems is a solid record. Matt Pond has not lost any of his flair for writing infectious, emotive pop music. In fact, there are moments on this album that find the group at their brightest and most confident. Just past its midpoint, Emblems hits pop perfection with "Claire," a simple, sunny number that features in its chorus one of Pond's sweetest harmonies yet. Lyrically, the song perfectly displays Pond's ardor for abstract metaphors and his exceptional ability to use them gracefully. "Lily Two," another standout on the album, shows the band covering new ground with an irresistibly funky groove complimented by Wurlitzer and organ layered underneath shimmering guitars. The unique rhyme scheme of the verses and expressive melody of the chorus add even more to the rhythmic strength of one of Matt Pond PA's finest songs.

I wasn't entirely wrong in my misgivings, however. Overall, Emblems lacks much of the dynamic variety that made the band's previous two albums so charming and interesting. 2002's The Green Fury beautifully combined lush instrumentation with stripped down production and featured 13 distinct gems with barely any rhythmic repetition among them. The Nature of Maps, released later that same year, had a more polished and sunnier tone, but still drew from a vast array of musical colors. Emblems, however, feels much more streamlined, especially in its production. The songs may not all sound the same, but they often feel the same. Pond's melodic range seems to be a bit narrower this time around as well. Few if any notes are belted out the way they were in songs like Maps' "Summer is Coming" or Fury's "Canadian Song." There is an element of vulnerability that seems to be missing.

But what Emblems lacks in youthful charm it makes up in its confident and solid delivery. It is a well-crafted, refreshing pop record ”” something this band has proven themselves capable of delivering many times over. So I won't hold it against Pond for losing the chair I loved so much, if it means he is surer of himself and his talent. Because he deserves that, and well, he'll be getting more exercise.

1. kc
2. closest (look out)
3. lily two
4. bring on the ending
5. the butcher
6. new hampshire
7. claire
8. summer (butcher two)
9. east coast e

10. last song
11. grave's disease
12. close (kc two)