It makes sense if you think about it: The seasons have their own character, their own sights and smells. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t get their own sounds. Matt Pond PA’s limited-edition Winter Songs EP does an admirable job of providing just that. A tidy collection of covers and originals, Pond’s little record quite expertly distills the cozy melancholy of the holiday season without overindulging on the sweets (or the sentimentality).
The focus of the record’s original work, opener “Snow Day,” plays to Pond’s strengths. Chatty acoustic guitar, restless percussion and silky cello transform memories of the childish ecstasy of canceled school and snow balls into something much more than simple nostalgia. The two instrumentals that follow (the other Pond originals on Winter Songs) sustain these bittersweet whimsies and frame the Neil Young cover, “Winterlong,” perfectly. Though a bit too faithful musically, Pond’s lazy tenor juxtaposes nicely against Shakey’s trademark vibrato.
British folk legend Richard Thompson gets a nod with “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” a buoyant major-key ode to the simple (but essential) pleasures of “a couple drunken nights rolling on the floor.” Pond’s version is pleasant enough, but it doesn’t compare to the Lindsay Buckingham tune that follows. Though penned by a songwriter with relatively less clout than Thompson or Young, “Holiday Road” is nonetheless mesmerizing. Warm, reflective and hopeful, Buckingham nails the best parts of the holidays like few pop songs do, and Pond’s version, humming with organ, slide guitar and cloud-gazing harmonies, is certainly up to the challenge. Neutral Milk Hotel bids the season a fond farewell with “In the Aeroplane over the Sea,” and again Matt and his buds keep it graceful.
Winter Songs may not be the most flexible of records, but adding a few limited-edition tracks to an already respectable output of proper albums shouldn’t have us looking askance. Long-time fans should definitely be pleased, and everyone else should still get a kick out of a little rum in their egg nog.