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Matt Pond PA | The Nature of Maps (Polyvinyl)
Two Matt Pond PA albums in the same year? Polyvinyl, you spoil us. Opening with the atypically rousing Fairlee (named after a town in Vermont), 'The Nature of Maps' succeeds in surpassing the already majestic 'The Green Fury' from February of this year, and that was an album guaranteed a place in this scribe's end-of-year top ten. Boasting the pop song of the year in Closer, as previewed in demo form on the last cover-mount, the band's fourth album is simultaneously the most diverse and accessible of its career. The musicians sound increasingly more 'at one' with the material, no doubt bolstered by the sense of integration that touring and familiarity bring. Pond himself is in sparkling form, his voice brimming with confidence and composure, his idiosyncratic lyrics - a mix of the narrative and the apparently non-sequitur - critical to the singularity of the MPPA experience. No More is quintessential Pond, encompassing all that is great about the Philadelphia quintet, notably the superb arrangement, lilting melody and a pensive Pennsylvania backdrop, whilst The Party continues the theme by stripping the band down to acoustic guitar, cello and harp with a suitably minimalist lyric, Pond's overlapping vocals more than ever reminiscent of prime Peter Gabriel. And then, Closer. Embellished to new heights from its already wonderful demo form, a percussive guitar figure, mournful cello and an exquisite melody combine to stunning effect. The brief diversion of New Kehoe, NJ sees the band in experimental mode, phased vocals and vibes introduced to the mix, a stadium-sized guitar making a quick cameo before the sprightly Close Map brings a familiar jauntiness, sounding like another Measure. After a reprise of No More, comes what Matt Pond refers to as 'the apex' of the album, Summer Is Coming. A slow, almost Eastern feel is coaxed from single notes and feedback as the intro unfolds into gentle, strolling territory before a change of tempo announces the 'arrival' of the song itself. An authoritative vocal, magnificent drumming from Mike Kennedy, glorious harmonies and a rousing finale all go to back up Pond's claim. A Well Of Tires provides a come-down, a percussion-less ballad that includes the priceless line, "the backs of heads make better friends," its winter theme echoing much of 'The Green Fury'. Further experimentation follows with the toy piano and '80s drum machine excursion A Million Middle Fingers, the effects-pedal-heavy guitars adding to the retro mood of this short song before Promise The Party has us back on more familiar ground, another buoyant Pond classic, and a self-referential nod to 'The Green Fury''s Promise The Bite. The closer, Athabasca brings the record full circle, a now customary Canadian geographical reference (it's a peaceful University town in Alberta, Canada, 90 miles north of Edmonton) and a guitar pattern reminiscent of 2000's Measure 1 making for a characteristically trademark ending. 'The Nature of Maps'' predilection for geographical references may have inspired its being named after a similarly titled cartography book, a quote from which ?? "Anything that can be spatially conceived can be mapped," admirably conveys the crafted nature of the music contained within.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002