Dives into tropical murk rather than crystal clarity
I requested this as I liked the Portland, Oregon, trio with this name which in the early ‘90s released three overlooked albums on SubPop. Hoping for a comeback or at least a lost record release, I opened the download link to learn that Hobo Rocket is the fifth CD from this Perth band, founded five years ago and aiming now for an American breakthrough. Sharing ties to fellow Australian psychedelic revivalists Tame Impala, this resembles their neighbors’ newest record Lonerism strongly, as three members are in both bands.
Starting off, “What Ever Happened to the Million Head Collide?” will please fans of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. With a vrooming, whooshing production, it takes off and sustains its progressive rock-meets-garage style with aplomb. “Xan Man” compresses the panoramic view into a smaller sonic space, with Cam Avery’s drums bashing away under Nick “Paisley Adams” Allbrook with vocals (also credited for flute, keys, guitar) who offers a dreamy, detached presence. It swings from the loud to soft in passages that distort and wobble even as the song tries to stand tall in the crash.
John Lennon’s woozy, morning-after hesitancy returns in “O Dharma” with Allbrook’s voice, trackes over Jay “Wesley Goldtouch/Wirey B. Buddah” Watson – guitar, keys, bass & backing vocals; Joseph “Shoseph Orion McJam” Ryan – guitar, bass & backing vocals; and Jamie Terry – keys & bass. It’s hard from an MP3 file to make out who’s who and what’s what, but Pond and label-mates Tame Impala favor a lush, rich ambiance, with acoustic and keyboard-dominant quiet interludes within the more aggressive or trippier passages. Burbling electronics work well to bring out the nuances of this song, and sitar effects end this with an appropriate reference to the East.
Songs take different directions in their four or five minutes. Today’s neo-psychedelic explorers appear to bifurcate into jam bands and those raised on indie rock who prefer shorter duration for adventures. “Aloneaflameaflowe” could have been recorded by the Portland predecessor Pond, at least in its stumbling opening, where guitar effects hit turbulence. Then, the voice emerges, and it’s back to the early ‘70s with a thicker mood of processed voice and uncertain foundations of melody. Harder guitars battle out of this until Allbrook’s voice whines. As if Robert Plant returns and Led Zeppelin struts. The band, however, lacks one overwhelming guitar presence such as a Jimmy Page, and with three players credited, Pond dives into a tropical, murkier atmosphere rather than a crystalline clarity.
“Giant Tortoise” swims up from the seasick segue. I was waiting for a track similar to Pink Floyd’s earlier phase, and this passed through that spacy stage before moving into more overdrive, if less interstellar than Lennonesque. The vocals keep nodding back to a post-Beatles lassitude, and the instrumental energy dissipates into restless directions. Pond, for all the relative brevity of each track, makes Hobo Rocket sound as long as a double-album of old, and its model rests on gatefolds and Hipgnosis icons.
To jolt us from one period of the ‘70s to another, that makes the mumbled vocals on the title track sound almost as if Mark E. Smith of the Fall staggers into the studio. More spoken than sung, gargled and casual, Perth local character Cowboy John’s turn at the mic takes a dramatic detour from the previous vocal turns on this album. Overlapping and raw, as if found-sound dialogue more than a lead lyric, this shuffles Pond’s influences closer to a punk or post-punk experimental snippet.
This closes with even more tape distortion before jumping into “Midnight Mass (At the Mission Street Payphone)”; it starts in Lennonesque tones yet again. This may appeal to those who worship the Smart Beatle, but I found this dependence on a languid stance wearying, as I have the same feature on Tame Impala’s albums. I prefer the more propulsive sections of both bands’ dense thicket of a gnarly guitar attack, but Pond won’t stay with one groove.
That they do so for more than a minute on the first and final tracks displays them at their best, recalling the Who or Pink Floyd in their more pastoral moments (or counterparts today the Soundtrack of Our Lives), but this refusal to ape their influences for too long proves an admirable tenacity. Pond manages like TSOOL to freshen trippy classic rock tropes with a calm command of the genre, not for 20-minute drum solos or stadium-ready riffs, but with a sense of the unexpected. You don’t know what will follow in the next minute of any of their songs. That’s a recommendation.