For a country where (based on films and pictures not actual evidence) people spend 99% of their time on the beach drinking truly terrible lagers and wearing very limited clothing Australia produces a surprising amount of good music.
From the very famous (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Tame Impala, The Vines) to the hardly heard of (Augie March, Neon, Kylie Minogue) it appears to be place where there’s little in the way of a particular sound. There’s also a brilliant tradition for band hoping! Luke Jackson jumps back and forth between the frighteningly good The Sleepy Jackson and the oddly good Empire of The Sun, Warren Ellis is a Badseed but he also leads Dirty Three, and Kevin Parker is not only the brains behind Tame Impala, but involved with Melody’s Echo Chamber, and Pond and Space Lime Peacock and The Dee Dee Dums and quite possibly every other band currently in anyway connected to the Perth music scene.
You won’t often find me gushing praise at Australia, but for your music I thank you, now on with the feature eh?
POND – HOBO ROCKET
Pond are one of many terribly named collectives associated with the Perth music scene. They’ve all played in various bands, and indeed Pond’s line up has been very changeable since they first formed in 2008. They’re now five albums into their career and despite the fact a lot of people still see them as a Tame Impala spin off, their profile has never been higher. Fourth album “Beards, Wives, Denim” was a triumph, and the follow up was originally not going to be “Hobo Rocket” but an entirely different album “Man, It Feels Like Space Again”. A cynic might suggest this implies a band a bit unsure about how to progress with their career, only time will tell how “Man, It Feels Like Space Again” turns out, but what they have produced is “Hobo Rocket” and if the band weren’t sure about it, it doesn’t show!
If there’s one thing that hasn’t change about Pond it’s their fondness for bonkers song titles. The opening track “Whatever Happened To The Million Head Collide?” certainly fits the bonkers title rules! It also fits the role of any great opening track, it’s bold, different and a statement of intent! Opening with a warm buzz of synth that highly reminiscent of another great collective Broken Social Scene, it’s beautiful! Of course where Pond are involved things generally don’t stay in one place for very long and as the opening gives way to a rumbling bass, a twangy guitar and a spacy vocal that’s as good as singer Nick Allbrook has put to record. His voice is a strong weapon in Pond’s armoury, he can sing in many styles, has an excellent range, indeed he recalls Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT who’s another excellent vocalist with a prog twang! The real stand out in the opening track comes after a minute or so when the whole track briefly erupts into a Led Zeppelin like wig out before rapidly falling back into it’s original shape, it add’s an air of tension and excitement as to what’s to come! A minute later it comes in a full blown form, there’s a brilliant freedom to the playing, and the screeched vocals and the pure rock’n’roll recalls fellow antipodeans The Datsuns and ACDC without so much pointless swagger! The outro to this track is as wonderful as what’s come before and the final two minutes of psych are not only very “on trend” but utterly blissful. It’s a wonderful start to an album!
It’s a tough act to follow, but second track Xanman certainly doesn’t lack any punch! It’s an immediate, slap round the face of a track. Ringing cymbals and a screeched vocal, join forces with a beautiful pulsing, groove of a bass line. It’s full of energy and very pacy! As is often the case with Pond I haven’t really got a clue what he’s talking about lyrically “Xanman, shit, won’t you hold my hand man?” isn’t a lyric many bands would bother to repeat, and perhaps with good reason! All in all it sounds an awful lot of fun to play, but there’s sections that probably didn’t need recording at all. You have to admire their adventurous side though!
O-Dharma however is a complete gem of a track! Starting with an acoustic it’s wonderfully dreamy and recalls the Flaming Lips at their very best. It’s hazy and beautiful and the line “If you motherfuckers don’t like it you can all get out” is said so softly that it’s rendered quite stunning. It’s a very clever trick to make a track build like this one, and every idea the band introduce is a complete joy. The choral backing and the superbly simple guitar riff, add texture, tone and are frankly wonderful. After two and a half minutes, it all falls back down to a simple strummed acoustic and a gorgeous synth that if you can forgive the simile sounds like bubbles rising in a bath tub. What follows is a brilliant outro that’s what you imagine The Beatles might sound like if they stayed together through the height of prog-rock, in fact with the twang of the sitar, you could argue it sounds like The Beatles at their very best!
One of the problems Pond seem to suffer from is throwing so many ideas at each track, inevitably with each track being so busy, some tracks suffer along the way. Aloneaflameflower has a bit of a trudge of an intro, a decent shreaky bit in the middle and then it manages to outstay it’s welcome. It’s a bit of a nothing track, which on a 7 track album is a real shame. Title track “Hobo Rocket” too is a tad throwaway, featuring a guest vocal from a man who sounds like an Australian Iggy Pop, it’s got a 90s vibe to it that recalls Death in Vegas or The Chemical Brothers. As he slurs “What kind of drugs you guy on?” it has the feeling of a studio joke, and the outro of a studio-outtake doesn’t really add anything but an air of unprofessionalism, it would make a pretty average B-side
Giant Tortoise is the albums lead single and it’s probably the most pop track in this collection. It’s got a good mix of hazy vocals and heavy prog pulses. The hooks here are all in the thrilling guitar riff which is as close as they get to a chorus. It’s one of the albums simplest songs and none the worse for that!
Closing track “Midnight Mass (At The Market St Payphone)” is again an overly elaborate song title. It’s got some wonderfully jagged edges and the prog wig outs are an awful lot of fun, even if there’s no great depth here! As pulsing synths and a simple chiming guitar drag us kicking and screaming into a frankly gorgeous outro, we’re reminded just how good they can be. Indeed when Pond get it right they’re stunning and it’s an excellent end to a patchy album.
All in all I can’t be too critical of this album. It’s a prog-rock album at heart and you can forgive the odd over elaborate moment and even the duff track or two. The highs here are simply thrilling and you have to admire the ambition and skill on show. They’ve taken a much maligned genre and produced something fresh and exciting, ultimately Hobo Rocket is a triumph, to match the many other great Australian albums that proceed it.