February 06, 2003

Matt Pond PA "The Nature of Maps"

The Nature of Maps reminds me of the Beatles, but not in sound. No, Matt Pond PA's new album reminds me of something George Harrison thought about two songs, "Norwegian Wood" and "Love To You." Though these songs were the Beatles' first recordings with a sitar, Harrison admitted later in life that these songs weren't very good, because he played the sitar wrong. The average listener didn't complain; the songs are still beautiful, which should be more important than whether or not the technique was correct. The idea remains the same, though; what may not be good technically can still produce excellent music. The theory applies to a band who are constantly honing their sound; you're enjoying the music, not noticing that the band's sound isn't completly cohesive.

The Nature of Maps is Matt Pond's latest baroque indie-pop record. It's much more memorable than its predecessor, because it's a much deeper record. Still, I feel like this is a "growth" record. Matt Pond PA is a band, not just Matt Pond, but it really doesn't feel like a band. Ideas are thrown around--some pretty good ideas--but they seem a bit pink in the middle, as if they need to cook a little more. I'm not sure if they're trying to be a rock band that's based around percussion and strings, or are a string-based folk band that are trying to be a rock band, because at times I'm torn as to what exactly they're wanting to do. I'd rather hear a band who can traverse two different styles like Matt Pond PA, because it lets me know that they're trying, attempting, working on something new, and aren't limited to one idea.

It must be said that they never deny their indie-rock roots. Yes, Matt Pond PA "rock," but softer, gentler than your average rock band. Thankfully, they're not prone to the trappings of bands such as Ladybug Transistor or other groups who see the equation as "strings + folk=60s psych." Nothing on The Nature of Maps would remotely pass off as retro--unless, of course, you consider "A Million Middle Fingers" sounds like a long-lost Cars demo. I'll admit that I'm a total sucker for a band that has a string section (or in Matt Pond PA's case, IS a string section), but I just didn't feel like Matt Pond PA really understand the power of their own strength. Of course, it's easy to feel like you're being teased; by the time you get comfortable with the string section, they're quickly off to a rocker, with ne'er a trace of that cello. Once you're getting into the rock vibe, though, they're back off again, into that resin-rock. Talk about a string tease!

Don't write Matt Pond PA off; growth takes time, and Matt Pond PA are a growing band. While The Nature of Maps might slip here and there, Pond and company are certainly not slouching in the ideas department. I'm pretty positive that they'll produce a much more elegant album. For the time being, The Nature of Maps can't be beat.

--Joseph Kyle

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