The music of Matt Pond PA will never be accused of possessing the sunniest of dispositions. The band's critically heralded sophomore release Measure (2000) treated listeners to their endearing brand of aching, melancholic, orchestral pop that bordered on gloom and despair without crossing over into the realm of the ominous.
Matt Pond is the voice and the vision of MPPA. His simplistic, acoustic compositions are not only brilliantly arranged, but further laminated by the excellent musicianship of Jim Hostetter (cello), Rachael Dietkus (violin) and Julia Rivers (french horn) providing the awe-inspiring, moody backdrop for Pond's plaintive, Jason Falkner-esque vocals and lyrical imagery.
The band's latest release is the five song EP I Thought You Were Sleeping. Clocking in at a scant 15 minutes, the disc is Pond's attempt at mildly obscuring things -- throwing the proverbial curveball -- on the way to their third full-length release due out in the fall. Fans will certainly recognize the moody atmospherics that typified Measure on songs like "Other Countries", "Measure 5" and the mournful title track. But completely unexpected are the uptempo numbers, "Put Your Hair Down" and "St. Andrews".
A bright, poppy, '60s-infused number like "Put Your Hair Down" would seem totally out of place on any other MPPA album, but here it works nicely. The song sounds as if it jumped right off of Rubber Soul with its bouncy, George Harrison-ized guitar melody and the whimsical vibraphone stylings of Mike Kennedy. "St. Andrews" is even more atypical. Propelled by opened-tuned, octave runs that so closely resemble Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt's amazing instrumental tour-de-force, "Midnight Express", "St. Andrews" is a sonic free-for-all from the get-go, a cacophony of sound with the sole purpose of providing an interesting transition between the happy-go-lucky "Put Your Hair Down" and the somber "I Thought You Were Sleeping".
A superb effort, I Thought You Were Sleeping reveals that Matt Pond's great songwriting skills aren't necessarily limited to the gloomy atmospheres created on earlier works. When he does decide to let the sunshine in, as he does briefly here, it shines ever so brightly.