Over the years, POND have progressed from crusty psych punks into a very strong psychedelic pop outfit and one of WA’s most beloved bands. Their latest 9 sees them continuing even further in their psychedelic synth pop direction with a set of (you guessed it, nine) very tight and largely career-best tracks.
It’s interesting to hear that this album emerged from a more open approach to songwriting, with frontman Nick Allbrook explaining the recording process as a series of off-the-cuff jam sessions from which ideas were then edited into songs. For a record that emerged from such spontaneity, it’s surprising that this is their least spontaneous-sounding album (in the best sense). Gone are the extended song forms and meandering jams that marred some of the group’s earlier material. Instead we have a set of excellent pop tracks all clocking under five minutes. With varying tempos and moods, this is the best showcase of POND’s emerging sound yet.
Opener Song for Agnes is an epic electro-pop track with a huge choral melody. Allbrook screams through the verses, bookended by crusty drum fills and an absolutely dirty synth squiggle. Most impressive is its build, as bass synths and pads swell and the drums come close to careening out of control. Yet it’s controlled chaos, never losing its form or descending into too open-ended a jam.
POND take the “mini epic” approach multiple times through the album, delivering songs that sound much bigger and longer than they really are. Closer Toast sees the band flex their balladeering muscles to excellent effect and gets across their lyrical ideas more eloquently than ever, this time wrapped in a layer of tongue-in-cheek cheesiness as befits its AOR sound (including sax solo). Deep cut Gold Cup / Plastic Sole will hopefully become a concert staple. Opening with breathy vocals and slow build, it then switches to a woozy riff and lets rip with the album’s second-biggest chorus.
The medal for biggest chorus goes to America’s Cup. We have here possibly the best POND song ever, fittingly a mini history lesson on Freo. “Before the America’s Cup/ It was Bikies and Junkies/ Bass Guitarists and Flunkies.” It may sound unlikely but it’s one of the year’s best pop moments. With its funky bassline and excellent structure, the whole song is one of the year’s best.
The remaining highlights are higher-speed, higher-energy tracks. These songs are all very tight but the band’s unhinged energy has been preserved. On Human Touch POND showcase another wrinkle as Allbrook sings with some serious sass. The industrial churning bass riff and lines of swirling guitar is a new sound for the band. They’ve sounded epic and spaced out before, but never this raunchy. Likewise on Pink Lunettes, the pace is suffocatingly fast and the energy higher than ever. Rambo completes the trifecta with its elastic bassline and another chorus we can’t do without.
The album isn’t perfect. The two more forgettable tracks on the album (Take Me Avalon I’m Young and Czech Locomotive) fall in the mid-range, not quite epics nor high-speed bangers. That being said, they both have something to offer, offering some lush and Krautrock-y soundscapes. They round out what is, end-to-end, POND’s best thus far. A must for fans and an excellent introduction to those new to the band.