Last Light (Altitude)
by Tim Den
Since I was introduced to Matt Pond PA via The Green Fury almost six years ago, I’ve become a bigger fan with every release. The Green Fury was a gentle and enjoyable slice of chamber pop, but it wasn’t until its follow-up, The Nature of Maps, that the band’s records started to contain more standouts than second thoughts. By the time Emblems and Winter Songs appeared, these guys were flat-out worshipped by yours truly. So imagine my astonishment when they upped the ante again with Several Arrows Later, their best record to date. Not only was it a step forward in terms of developing their sonic identity – new band members were ebbing the group into a more “rock” than chamber pop approach – but it lost none of guitarist/vocalist Matt Pond’s gift for incredible melodies. Cuz no matter how much more muscle you put into chamber pop – and, let’s face it, the genre can only handle so much muscle – the bread and butter of these songs are the melodies, right?
Which is why I’m extremely disappointed to say that Last Light is perhaps Matt Pond PA’s weakest record to date. The reason? What else? The melodies. Though Several Arrows Later hinted at the guys wishing they were more rockin’ than they really are, here they actually sound like they’re trying too hard, and at the expense of the melodies. One listen to “Basement Parties” and “The Crush” and it’s obvious that they’ve chosen easily-digestible chord progressions and hooks in order to write straight forward, radio-friendly rock songs. Sure, I could see these two tunes being played by KROQ, but I also know that their composition is average at best when compared to the band’s catalog of witty, slippery, affecting melodies. And it wouldn’t be so bad if the epidemic was contained to just the “rockier” songs, but alas, no dice. Even the pleasant opening title track reeks of “too easy.” You can hear the next chord and next hook coming from a mile away because it’s safe and predictable, not to mention un-Matt Pond PA worthy. These guys are responsible for some of the most poignant yet smart torch songs of the last decade, why stop the streak now?
On other tracks, such as “Honestly,” “Sunlight,” and “Foreign Bedrooms,” the massive potential held by the verses is quickly squashed by the hokey, roly-poly, sometimes even humpty-dumpty choruses. The Neko Cake duet “Taught to Look Away” is enjoyable only cuz it sounds like every waltz ever written, and the album closes with two of the band’s worst ever: “Giving it All Away” and “It’s Not So Bad At All.” Not a redeeming trait in those two. The only two entries that live up to Matt Pond PA’s past are “People Have a Way” and “Locate the Pieces.” The former is a stomping piano barnyard celebration, the latter, proof that the dudes could’ve written a whole album of such painfully beautiful autumnal hymns.
Having become accustomed to expecting better and better from these guys, it really kills my spirit to write these awful things about Last Light. But when you love and admire a group as much as I do Matt Pond PA, it’s hard not to be let down hard when the letdown hits. For selfish reasons, I can only hope that the band go back to doing what they do best and leave trite radio rock to the major label drones.