By their fifth album, bands are typically resting on their laurels and pleasing their steady fan base with tunes that are just a hair different than the ones that gave them a following in the first place. In the case of Emblems, though, it seems the intern spilled coffee on that memo and threw it away. On its fifth outing, Matt Pond PA has eschewed its Peterson's Field Guides chamber pop and stumbled on something a bit different: the beautiful complexity of human emotions and their effect on relationships.
Pond understands that human interactions are defined in more than black and white; an uncharted gray area will never be fully explored. On this go around, he and his band see the world as a gently rippling ocean, where if you don't look twice, you'll miss where you need to get off.
As the album opens with "KC," the band's trademark chamber pop is as apparent as it has been in the past, but a new level of assurance guides Pond's lyrics. His awareness as a man that's a little bit too in touch with his emotions shines through as he sings, "There's no way to the heart better than awkwardly." Pond may be as sensitive as charged, but at least he is confident of his place in the world.
"Closest (Look Out)" is an obvious single and is Matt Pond PA at its most infectious. Clocking in at just shy of five minutes, the entire band brilliantly maneuvers between verse, chorus, bridge and then back again. Maybe Pond is a maladroit lover, or maybe he just sees things on a different level than the rest of us, but he and his band expertly slide through this song while avoiding any sort of paint-by-the-numbers indie act.
"The Butcher" opens with each line being quickly followed by the agile cello of Eve Miller, creating a mood that is one of desperation or anxiety. As the music rides out at the end of the song, the lyrics still flash through your head, leaving all of your questions unanswered. But that's the charm of MPPA. You make that connection because he paints pictures of your life's experiences, but you never get any answers. If you did, you might stop coming back.
After dinner a few weeks ago, I opened my fortune cookie and it read "Love is a present every single day you live." Not to be all melodramatic, but it's also something that can be taken away everyday, and this is where that indefinable gray area comes into play. Pond and his band mates have done well exploring this on Emblems. It's the same Matt Pond PA, but on this album, everything hits a little harder and lasts a little bit longer.
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