Clean. Crisp. Well produced. Sparkling sound. Immediately accessible. Formulaic. Courting no challenges. Introspective. Unambiguously pop. Hooks. Heartbreak. Matt Pond PA. Does pop music have to be easy listening? Definitely not. Is easy listening pop music a bad thing? Definitely not. It’s all in perspective. Matt Pond PA gives us a platter of hooky pop songs that mimic to a degree some pretty fine moments in pop music: XTC, The Go Betweens, Big Star, to name a few. But where those bands sounded as if their brand of pop was resting on the edge of something risky, Matt Pond PA is more content to play from the safety of the middle.
Several Arrows Later actually buries their most recognizable trait as a band: the copious use of strings as accents and embellishments. Instead Matt Pond and company decide to push their songs into adult contemporary rock territory by emphasizing chiming Counting Crows-esque guitars. It’s not an entirely unpleasant sound. In fact there’s absolutely nothing unpleasant about Several Arrows Later, it’s all perfectly engineered, charming, and would follow Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” quite well, thus making it obvious fodder for programmers to drop into the car radios of a million dazed commuters. I can assure all AOR programmers out there that there are absolutely no songs on Several Arrows Later that would elicit a response as strong as actually turning to another station.
As with other Matt Pond PA releases Several Arrows Later is a set of songs played in the key of mope. While the music may be overproduced slices of sing-a-long melody, the heart of these songs is disappointment. The overriding sense of listless frustration that permeates this record bears a certain kinship to the jangly sad sack style of Joe Pernice. But where Pernice’s literary lyrical style creates ambiguity and mood, Pond often feels heavy handed in a high school love note sort of way.
Several Arrows Later is one of those records that lands itself exactly in the middle of the critical landscape. I feel loathe giving it an out and out bad review because, frankly, it’s not a bad record. It’s more about the things it doesn’t do that frustrates me. It doesn’t grab you, it doesn’t shake you; despite it’s fine songwriting you won’t be struggling to get these songs out of your head because, like a well mannered dinner guest that didn’t take the party to the next level but didn’t leave a bunch of spilled drinks in his wake either, they just kind of exit quietly.
Perhaps this slightly bland direction is one that Matt Pond PA was always headed making this record a totally expected arrival point. But somehow their earlier brand of chamber pop, full of lush strings, and Pond’s cloying but touching lyrics seemed to promise something a little more than the pedestrian virtues of Several Arrows Later.