It must be something in the water, but those Australian psychedelic bands sure don’t seem to give much of a damn about mass appeal. Pack leaders Tame Impala are obviously an exception to the rule, but fellow zonked out rockers like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and Shiny Joe Ryan seem far more concerned with experimental world-building and cult fascination than having anything to do with even flirting with pop music.
I would have put Perth freakazoids Pond in that same category before the release of their most recent LP, 9. Featuring both Shiny Joe Ryan and Tame Impala contributor Jay Watson, Pond take the same kitchen-sink approach to psychedelic rock as the previously mentioned artists, with singer/songwriter Nick Allbrook taking the lead and steering the band towards heavy-hitting rock and roll on Hobo Rocket and wild eclecticism on Psychedelic Mango.
But there’s something different about 9. It’s more succinct and compact, streamlined to highlight the melodies and catchiness of the songs rather than swimming in noise and guitar effects. Appropriate to its name, the album only has nine songs, and only two extend past the five-minute mark.
It’s not like the band has forsaken experimental rock or psychedelia. It’s also not as though the band had set a precedent for this kind of work on their previous two albums, Tasmania and The Weather. Both those albums had their sprawling extended excursions, but they also had shorter, earworm heavy songs that could settle up next to the more mainstream vein of indie rock. In places, I didn’t hear too much difference from the spaciness of Declan McKenna’s Zeroes or the exuberant pop of The 1975.
If that kind of thing makes you want to head for the hills, don’t worry, because Pond are still highly ambitious in their scope and supremely dedicated to making their songs heady experiences. It’s just that 9 very rarely plays into weirdness for weirdness sake. It actually sounds as if maximalism wasn’t the goal above all else, which is a welcome change.
Tracks like album opener ‘Song for Agnes’ and album closer ‘Toast’ almost sound like synth noir, the former complete with jazzy saxophone and the latter punctuated with an extended keyboard outro. In between these atmospheric tracks, the band turn toward funk-pop on ‘America’s Cup’, disco-punk on ‘Pink Lunettes’, and straight-up club jams on ‘Rambo’.
Even tracks that sound like they’re more indebted to the band’s out-there style, tracks where you’d expect the group to spread out and hang loose, they either reel it back in or explode with an unexpected hook. ‘Take Me Avalon I’m Young’ can stick in sweeping strings, a drum break, and even a reference to quarantine without diverting too far from the main musical foundation of each song. ‘Czech Locomotive’ starts slow and eerie, but it all builds to a hook that bursts out and sounds positively dancefloor-ready.
The great thing about 9 is that it shows some significant evolution from Pond without sacrificing what made them so unique and interesting in the first place. Even among a glut of Australian psych-rockers, Pond had distinction, none of which is sacrificed on the new record. Instead, it’s refined and weaponised, making 9 the band’s most accessible work to date. 9 is the sound of putting down the hallucinogenics and picking up the bottle for a night out, and it’s a wicked fun ride from start to finish.