In about a dozen years and eight records, Matt Pond PA have proven one of the most reliable indie rock acts of the aughts, handing in album after album of catchy, pretty chamber pop tunes. Now, “reliable” may not necessarily be a word that rock bands like to hear associated with their good name-it implies safety, pleasantry, and a sense that there are few challenges offered with one’s work. Then again, it also connotes consistency, and as far as elegant indie pop goes, few bands have handed over as many rewarding albums as Matt Pond PA.
On The Dark Leaves, the group’s first full-length since 2007’s Last Light, Pond and his trusty band of multi-talented multi-instrumentalists haven’t altered their M.O. much. The uptempo songs are still rustic and charming, the ballads still swoon with a delicate grace. How one will ultimately respond to these songs more or less depends on how one felt about the band prior to the album. Yet while this is very much a Matt Pond PA album in the way we’ve come to expect, that isn’t to say there aren’t standouts, and plenty of them. Leadoff track “Starting” has a sprightly momentum, and shuffles with a hand-clapping celebration. “Remains” is awash in big synthesizers, taking an already warm track and adding a little extra glow. “Ruins” spikes a sleepier midsection with a fresh burst of energy, driven by dazzling piano hooks. And “Winter Fawn” is practically hypnotic in its repeating, finger picked melody.
The primary drawback of The Dark Leaves is that its propulsive, fun tracks like “Starting” and “Ruins” are few in number. Not that the band isn’t adept at gorgeous, sweeping ballads, but they have a tendency to bleed together, leaving few peaks to stimulate or engage the listener. This is what made past albums like The Nature of Maps such excellent and memorable slabs of perfect pop (“Summer Is Coming” was even played at my wedding). The Dark Leaves is a pretty album, and one whose tracks don’t take long to endear themselves to the listener. All I ask is one or two more songs with a little more get up and go.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.