Summer songs are nice and all. They’re filled with stories about fleeting love, the loss of innocence and young hearts leaving comfortable climes behind in favor of the unknown. Winter songs, though? That’s difficult to say. Often enough writers get caught up thinking about the holiday season more so than the long hours of darkness, the days of being snowed in, and the nights when you just can’t warm those bones no matter how hard you try. Sure, there are exceptions, but a quick (unscientific) scan of tunes about the chilliest of seasons suggests that there aren’t nearly enough. Thank the solstice for Matt Pond PA’s latest offering, then.
We’ve actually been here with Pond (the man) before: The 2005 EP Winter Songs filled us up with a few originals dedicated to the season, along with covers from the likes of Neil Young, Richard and Linda Thompson, and Lindsey Buckingham that may or may not have been as tightly connected, thematically, as one might imagine. Pond has clearly had some time to think about the matter and has emerged with a nicely woven collection that finds him looking back on his youthful days with a sense of wonder and an ear for heartwarming melodies that still summon the season’s deep-reaching chill.
To his credit, Pond doesn’t stretch the theme beyond the point of breaking. In fact, it’s dealt with seamlessly and with the kind of care one hopes a master artist would take with his craft. Mentions of snow and ice have their thematic and metaphorical purposes here and aren’t just casual references hastily slapped onto what could just as easily be songs about autumn or late spring.
Opener “In Winter” sets things nicely in motion, captivating us with its strings, bells and gentle beats, the music transporting us to New England in those months when the temperatures drop and the snow accumulates faster than debt in a new business enterprise. There, as in the upbeat, almost Paul Westerberg-inspired “The Glow” plus “Force of Nature”, we’re witness to smart, hook-driven compositions that are driven by strong emotions, though they never become weighed down by the gravity of those feelings.
We’re also reminded that love can spring up no matter the season, such as on the lovely “Whoa (Thirteen and Sledding with Kerry in Northern New Hampshire)” and the closing, solemn-but-celebratory “Winter Lives”.
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One surprisingly strong element of any Pond release (and this one in particular) is the presence of musical vignettes that spring up throughout. There are three beautifully-rendered ones here: the cinematic “A Candle and a Deck of Cards”, the backward glance “Sunset at the Gas Pump” and the Iron & Wine-ish “Leggings in the Living Room” (you can hear logs crackling in the fireplace even if they’re not literally in the mix).
As good as any Matt Pond PA release is there always seems to be something a little polite, something that keeps us from feeling like the music challenges as much as its soothes the soul. That can read a little light in the hands of some artists and it leaves this record teetering on the verge of being nice but not especially meaningful. That’s where the small touches, such as the gritty (by comparison) but hopeful “Dirty Looks” and the Peter Gabriel-ish “Used to Be” come in, tempering the sweetness with a little bit of the ol’ darkness and giving us a release that is finally more balanced and wise than a cursory glance would reveal.
This is another nice entry in the Matt Pond PA oeuvre and one that will likely stand as one of the better and brighter feats the man and his band have accomplished. And, yes, it is an album for all seasons, no matter its subject matter.