On the global political stage, storm clouds are gathering. In the face of Trump, Brexit, Isis etc, what can a poor boy do…but sing in a rock ‘n’ roll band? Amid these trouser-soiling conditions, antipodean psychedelic rockers POND aren’t so dumb as to try and offer cloud-busting solutions, or even a long-range forecast.
Instead, they serve up ‘The Weather’ – their own baffled, if ever madcap barometric reading of the geo-political situation (amongst others), in mind-bendingly excellent album form – all this, from their vantage point in Perth, the Western Australian city referred to "as the most remote city on earth", characterized on the album in, ‘Edge Of The World’.
“A lot of the songs are fairly West Australian self-reflective,” explains the band’s singer-guitarist, Nick Allbrook, “about the weird confused place that our white Australian demographic has found itself in – not belonging to this country rightfully, and also being as sure as hell not English – and about this completely empty, confused moral dilemma that seems like it’s everywhere in the world right now.”
POND who came into being amid the Perth scene which also spawned Tame Impala, have perhaps thus far been perceived to inhabit a hazy world of daily hallucinogen ingestion and all-eclipsing stoner apathy. Not so. In ’15, Allbrook penned a thoughtful essay entitled ‘Creative Darwinism: Pretty Flowers Grow In Shit’, revealing how geographical isolation had fired his peer group into making inspirational music together.
Technically the bands seventh long-player, though only the fourth to be properly available worldwide - their uniquely skewed vision finally, urgently snaps into focus on this long-player. It opens with ’30000 Megatons’, a despairing meditation on the nuclear threat, its spiraling synth-prog hysteria mirroring the escalating unease we all feel around the world right now.
Ironically, in that context, ‘The Weather’ also packs some of the outright poppiest POND tunes to date. The Track 2-3-4 whammy of ‘Sweep Me Off My Feet’, ‘Paint Me Silver’ and ‘Colder Than Ice’ finds the band at their most melodically direct and synth-pop-loving, if forever with a wryly-subversive twist. If these be the hits to make POND a rightful household name, then arrive they must with a dark undertow of drug chaos and genital indiscretions...
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At the turn of the 2010’s, Western Australia was going through a boom, counter to the general economic downturn, thanks to the discovery of fresh seams of mineral deposits in its deserted expanses. Perth’s music scene shared in the wealth via government arts funding, so, consciously or not, their collective post-millennial take on sunshine-psych channeled that positive energy locally.
POND was formed during those years, as “a Royal Trux-cum-Cream power trio”, fronted by Allbrook with Jay Watson and Joe Ryan. Their rhythm section at any time was fairly ad-hoc; Kevin Parker was their drummer for a bit, while he launched his own project, known as Tame Impala.
“We dedicated ourselves to being these brain-burrowing, commune-dwelling psychedelic lunatics,” says Nick, who relished the idea of feeding the whole history of pop into a giant blender as an experiment. Though majoring in “strobe light-strapped-to-your-forehead, chain-me-to-a-bed psychedelia”, he says there were other key influences; as diverse as Michael Jackson, Beastie Boys and Led Zeppelin – “hip hop, super-pop and ’70s metal”, he chuckles.
POND started off by releasing three digital/limited-vinyl albums in quick succession circa 2008-10 (‘Psychedelic Mango’, ‘Corridors Of Blissterday’, and ‘Frond’), which few people got to hear outside Australia. POND only went genuinely public with 2012s ‘Beard. Wives. Denim’ – a pulsating psych-rock epic, whose alive-in-the-room methods diametrically opposed Parker’s circa ‘Lonerism’.
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Kevin Parker has, of course, long since moved on to concentrate on Tame Impala, but he returned to produce this new record, at his studio in Fremantle, Western Australia. “It’s really close to the beach there,” says Nick, “so for three weeks in early ’16, we made an everyday work schedule of going in and fucking about with the songs, and layering and using all the shit that we had, then going to dip our bodies in the ocean, then coming back and doing some more”.
Jay, Joe and Nick all bring songs to the table. In terms of their internal chemistry, Ryan “writes the more country-balladeering type of things and comes up with these cooked ideas that make everyone laugh – we call him The Wild Card.” Watson, by contrast, “is the hyper-paranoid ringleader of the music, and the tightness, and the chord-structures. And the man’s a machine for plastic ’disco-pop”. Allbrook himself, apparently, supplies “all the weird stuff in between”.
From his ‘unusual’ perspective, Nick thought ‘The Weather’ was their most all-over-the-place waxing to date: “it was like a conscious decision to take great scoops of pop culture – from R&B pop, and noise-punk, to epic prog stuff – and just kind of throw it willy-nilly and abstractly into a big pile.” Its chief producer, though, thinks otherwise: “Kev kept telling me that it was actually really focused, so I’ll just have to believe him.”
‘Sweep Me Off My Feet’, the first single, has a delectable air of romantic expectation and sophistication, it feels like a great lost synth-pop hit from the Trevor Horn mould.
“It’s real poppy sounding,” Allbrook agrees with a worrying smirk, “but it’s far more slack and self-loathing a subject matter than any Top 40 pop hit would in its right mind be. It explicitly says the word ‘penis’, so, you know, it’s not straight-up pop. And ‘penis’ is the least cool way to say it, isn’t it? We use the anatomical term. We’re not very cool guys.”
‘Next up, ‘Paint Me Silver’ is another gleamingly alluring song, constructed by Jay around a pitch-shifted sample from Todd Rundgren’s ‘Utopia’, which the three of them duly jammed on, and Allbrook then topped off with a lyric based around something his friend Amber Fresh had said.
“She plays under the moniker ‘Rabbit Island’, he explains. She said, “Paint me silver and call me Hermann Hesse, if I ever ask for your pouch again”, because she’d sworn to not smoke, then I added a bit of other shit about materialist ideology, and the drawing together of humanity – whether it’s a good thing or not – through globalisation, but it’s all expressed in stupid whimsical little phrases.”
Completing that triumphant triumvirate upfront, the infectiously juddering ‘Cold As Ice’ guest-stars eccentric Australian alt-ledge Kirin J. Callinan on what Nick calls “Michael Jackson-on-meth expulsions”. Which totally fits the bill, because, Nick reveals, “that one’s about the meth crisis in Western Australia. It’s a pretty trashy song, so it’s making a bit of a cheese of the whole meth crisis, and the way it’s being covered so sensationally in news things. Also, it’s half coming from the point of view of someone who’s off their gourd, struttin’ through the suburbs feelin’ like a million dollars. Yeah! But as with most of the shit on the album: if it does get into social issues, we definitely don’t pretend to offer any resolution.”
After those three tunes, any right-thinking listener would cut POND the slack to do as they please – and this they pretty much do, from ‘Edge Of The World’s’ dreamy speculation on Perth’s out-on-its-ownness, via ‘A/B’s’ skittering mania, through to the title track’s unnervingly blissful eco-conclusion. Perfectly measured in its lurching between moods, relevant in its synth-pop/guitar-psych balance, and bang on the money in its polemical anxieties – here, at last, is the classic killer POND album.