Review: Pond, Man It Feels Like Space Again

With Man It Feels Like Space Again, Pond seem to have made it a priority to remind listeners that they are the reigning goofballs of psychedelic rock.
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With Man It Feels Like Space Again, Pond seem to have made it a priority to remind listeners that they are the reigning goofballs of psychedelic rock.
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opinion byKATIE STEEN

With Pond’s most recent release, Man It Feels Like Space Again, the group seems to have made it a priority to remind listeners that they are the reigning goofballs of psychedelic rock. Sure, it’s tempting to compare Pond, an Australian psych rock band, to Tame Impala, another Australian psych rock band (in which most members of Pond have played in at some point). But that wouldn’t be quite fair. Since the release of Lonerism, Tame Impala have adjusted quite admirably to the spotlight, collaborating with Kendrick Lamarand Mark Ronson, and enjoying prominent festival time slots, but Pond seem content just screwing around on the side.

The album kicks off with “Waiting Around For Grace,” which wobbles around for a while with a creaky start that explodes about a minute in—pause, solo, bam. Lyrically, it's pretty common; apparently, Pond are tired of a number of things, including being tired. And, indeed, the song does feel tired. Much of this album seems to be recycling sounds of the past, and while that's intentional, the line between pastiche and imitation is often blurred and unrecognizable.

Early single “Elvis’ Flaming Star” seems to be self-aware of how corny it sounds. It’s melodramatic and fuzzy, with a dreamy, slower-tempo interlude thrown in featuring a warbly, out of tune clavinet, and it is deliberately out of tune, defiantly off-kilter. Just watch the music video for “Elvis,” which features the boys doing a number of quintessentially “goofy” things—getting sprayed in the face with silly string, getting pummeled with water balloons, dancing under strobe lights, rocking out in alien sunglasses. The video is glitchy, distorted, washed in color, and filled with all the kinds of things that are supposed to make clear just how much fun the band is having. The whole thing feels kind of forced, like they’re trying a little too hard to assert the fact that they’re carefree.

For the most part, Space holds it together, but there are a few moments that feel a little…moronic. For Christ’s sake, there’s a song called “Heroic Shart” on the album—a track that drags along while grasping at psychedelia, as if it were enough to add some phaser and reverb on a track to make it trippy.

But there are some exceptions to the slapstick, shart-jokey songs of the album. Take the stripped-down “Medicine Hat,” which offers some respite from the relentless psych-pop of Space. It starts out slow and contemplative as guitarist Joe Ryan complains in a twangy country voice about walking in circles, then the song mopes around for a while until eventually fizzing out into oblivion. But it doesn’t feel quite as satisfying as it should, given that many songs on Space follow this pattern: slow start, strong build, pause, dramatic explosion. After explosion-into-the-abyss #5, it all begins to feel a bit formulaic.

“Sitting Up On Our Crane” is another more vulnerable and tender track that ambles along and eventually bursts into phaser-filled haze. It’s so dramatic it’s gotta be tongue-in-cheek, and it works, right up until the point where the lyrics talk about wanting to get drunk and listen to Dennis Wilson, “’cause he’s the man, yeah yeah yeah…” (pause for effect) “oooooooo…”  Then you have to wonder if the band is making a mockery out of…the Beach Boys?  Music in general? Themselves? Jay Watson commented on the flippant nature of songs like “Crane,” claiming in an interview that the “cheesy Beach Boys harmonies” are intentional. “Even if it is a serious song, we’re always willing to sabotage it with some sort of idiocy.” But why? He never says.

If there's one song on Space that seems genuinely, 100% sincere—no gimmicks, no self-sabotage–that's “Holding Out For You,” a sappy, heartfelt track that floats along in a dreampop cloud. Actually, it’s probably the only song on Man It Feels Like Space Again that really feels spacey. It even ventures into truly heartbroken love song territory when weepy vocals continuously repeat, “I was holding out for you.” It's a welcome change of pace, and it's quite telling that something so maudlin can feel refreshing.

The album ends with its title track, which starts off with a relaxed, “Bohemian Rhapsody” chantey that quickly shifts to a decidedly triumphant tune. Clocking in at over eight minutes, “Space” shifts and wanders—at times confident and sunny, at times haunting, even despairing. It’s a journey at the end of the album that offers listeners a satisfyingly strange return to the comforts of Pond's earlier material.

But ultimately, is Space as a whole satisfying? Yes, Pond seem to have accomplished what they were aiming for—a lighthearted psychedelic album, even if it meant intentionally pushing their weird and wacky image via Vevo and Pitchfork music videos. While I’m happy to see Pond really taking off as their own band separate from Tame Impala, I can’t help to feel nostalgic for the more composed times of Beard, Wives, Denim, when they had a little more focus and a little less water balloons. B-