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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Matt Pond PA’s Variations on a Theme

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Matt Pond PA is no longer from PA, though after 12 years as a band, not much else has changed.

And even that hasn’t changed much. Pond relocated his band from Philadelphia to Brooklyn seven years ago, so they’ve technically been Matt Pond NY for more than half their existence. But if you have a good thing going, why change it?

If you have a good album going, why change it? If you have a good song going, why change it? Matt Pond PA has occupied the same conceptual space over hundreds of songs across eight albums and seven EPs. The chords change and so might the tempos, but it’s hard not to think Matt Pond hasn’t been coming up with variations of the same track, time and again, for more than a decade.

That’s a very good thing.

Change is rarely as good as people make it out to be. Matt Pond PA has a rare talent for consistently turning out some of the best Matt Pond PA music ever recorded. Look for the best music with a blend of cello, blue-collar vocals and a melancholy, hookless jangle pop core, and find his entire catalog. Done.

“I can’t pretend to be someone else,” Pond says. “I think that there’s a perception that it’s easy to be someone else.”

And why would he? No one goes to a Ford dealership to buy a toaster; no one goes to Denny’s for major surgery. “Niche” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Do one thing and perfect it. Matt Pond certainly has.

To Pond, it is less about the albums being similar and more about the albums forming one cohesive work. “These songs are a progression,” he says, “a process—the whole thing is supposed to stack together.”

It may be as difficult as spotting the differences between Andy Warhol soup cans, it may take listening to the albums back to back, but there are subtle differences between records.The changes are substantive once you notice them. It just takes some work to do so. The 2005 Winter Songs EP was deliberately tinged with the titular season, but it’s hard to notice a season as a flavor of brooding without comparison. Last Light, from 2007,took direction from guests like Neko Case to show breadth—at least, breadth for Matt Pond. And the new album, The Dark Leaves, is a return to organic, roots sounds—albeit, a shorter jump for a chamber-pop band than for most.

To achieve Dark Leaveswoodsiness, Pond brought his team to record in a cabin in Bearsville, N.Y. Rural enough for its name to be accurate—bears routinely knocked over the woodpiles outside their door—it’s an environment that demands albums with at least one steel guitar. They obliged.The locale was a great choice for an album, but not the first choice for many members of a New York City-based crew.

“People were walking around with laptops, hoping that the trees would give off a Wi-Fi signal,” Pond says.

Just as trees inevitably make lousy wireless routers, so too did Matt Pond PA inevitably produce an album that was tethered to albums past. But how different should a record named Dark Leaves be from a jaw-dropper named Last Light?

Pond barely considers it.

“I just try to write songs,” he says.

Matt Pond PA and opener Bobby Long play a 9 p.m. show at Mad Planet on Monday, May 10.