Album review

Pond - Hobo Rocket

Pond - Hobo Rocket

Aussie psych-rockers make a splash with their tightest album yet. Tame, it ain't...

Pond for the last couple of years has been the noise Jay Watson and Nick Allbrook make with likeminded confederates when they aren’t touring with Tame Impala. This particular arrangement has made it sometimes seem like Pond are a Tame Impala spin-off, a side project, a kind of hobby, Jay and Nick and their mates going into the studio as the mood vaguely takes them, the equivalent of some blokes retreating to a garden shed to potter aimlessly about, smoke some weed, goof off.

There’s a possibility this perception will even survive Nick’s recent departure from Tame Impala, although it would continually rather wrong-headedly ignore the fact that Pond have a thriving history of their own that goes back to Nick’s early band, Mink Mussel Creek, who also featured a pre-Impala Kevin Parker and includes also four previous albums, Psychedelic Mango (2009), Corridors Of Blissterday (2009), Frond (2010) and last year’s Beards, Wives, Denim, alongside Japandroids’ Celebration Rock the most exultant rock album of 2012.

At one point it seemed there might be two more Pond albums this year, the other being the splendidly-titled Man, It Feels Like Space Again, whose songs were written first but won’t now be recorded until September, the band’s enthusiasm for the newer material evidently making Hobo Rocket a more immediate priority. Beards, Wives, Denim was a sometimes anarchic sprawl in which explosive elements of the MC5, Stooges, Hendrix, early Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were flung into a highly combustible mix. It was sexy, loud, debauched, brash and mind-blowing. The terrific Hobo Rocket has many of the admirable assets that made BWD great, but there’s a sense in the album’s overall finesse that things as far as possible are being taken perhaps a little more seriously than hitherto. Which is not to say Pond have become suddenly as serious as monks, a glum-fest in brooding cloisters, but merely to acknowledge Hobo Rocket’s greater focus, concentration and concision. At seven tracks, it’s half the length of BWD, which was exhausting enough in parts to make you feel like you’d been subjected to a vigorous waterboarding.

Hobo Rocket is more like a series of tracks that go off like target-specific drone strikes than BWD’s wider field of fire, and its ballistic spray of passably random blasts, salvoes and window-shattering detonations. They are still capable of making a wonderfully infernal din, but there’s conspicuously less errant cacophony here, not so much mucking about. “Whatever Happened To The Million Heads Collide” starts the album spectacularly. There’s a lulling wash of synthesisers and what sounds like something scratching beneath the floorboards, before Joe Ryan’s bass walks into the room with a Bo Diddley swagger accompanied by war drums and sibilant vocal effects that recall the way Kevin Parker’s whispering on “Be Above It”, the opening cut on Tame Impala’s Lonerism, became part of the song’s rhythm track. You may also be reminded of something like Pink Floyd’s “Pow R. Toc H.”

This is heavy stuff, man, and things get heavier still on “Xanman” (featured on this month’s free CD), “Aloneaflameaflower” and “Giant Tortoise”, with their blistered layers of guitars, synthesisers, subatomic rhythm tracks and Nick sounding here and there like something brightly feathered making a racket in a rain forest. The dreamy “Oh Dharma” deviates from this pummelling template, introducing a mood of lysergic nostalgia, the kind of poignant wistfulness you might associate with Barrett-era Floyd or The Beach Boys of “In My Room” and “Caroline, No”, a gorgeous interlude about half way through recalling something serene and drifty by Groove Armada. “Hobo Rocket” itself is a magnificent thing, a funky psychedelic groove with Nick on lead guitar, Joe Ryan on sitar and far-out phlegmy vocals from Cowboy John, a colourful local character befriended by the band, probably over drinks. “Where do I find my horse with wings?” Cowboy John demands, in such full-on declamatory mode it makes you wonder if in some alternative Pond-designed universe Jim Morrison instead of dying in a Paris bathtub might have somehow made his way undetected to Perth where for the last 40 years has been propping up a bar in Western Australia waiting for Pond to find him. “What kind of drugs you on, man?” he finally enquires, before invoking the prophet Ezekial and hilariously berating Pond for being unprofessional. The closing “Midnight Mass (At The Market Street Payphone)”, meanwhile, is simply beautiful, its long instrumental coda making you feel like you’re falling through space in a suit of lights.
Allan Jones

Q&A
Nick Allbrook
Do people still think of Pond as a Tame Impala spin-off?

I have no idea what people think. Band names and album titles and songwriting credits and all this business...it gives everyone really concrete definitions to grasp onto, which are probably false. I guess the easiest thing for people to wind their heads around would probably be to invent a new name to tag onto the whole gamete of shart that comes from our mob. Everything we do is a spin-off of something bigger, something probably too fun and pure to put a silly ol' name to. It worked for Wu-Tang, ya?

Hobo Rocket is the second of two albums Pond have written since last year’s Beards Wives Denim. How did it end up being recorded first?
Well, the songs were written after Man, It Feels Like Space Again and we got scared that if we waited too long we would be inconsolably bored with them by the time it came to doing them. So we figured to put them in an e.p. Then we decided the same thing about some more Space Again songs and then it turned into an album.

Where does Hobo Rocket take Pond that they haven’t been before?
Well, it’s the only time we've wanted anything to be really heavy, then listened to it after and said "Wow, that is *really heavy*". So that’s pretty grand. It's also a whole lot more sonically interesting, lyrically interesting, cohesive, barbaric... Yeah I guess it’s just completely removed from everything so far from our rather biased perspective.

What are your own plans now that you’ve left Tame Impala?
Well, I just finished the book I was reading, so I'll need to go find another one. Showering is a must, too, although it’s sunny and I woke up at one o'clock so I should get a move on. Oh, and I'm gonna do some stuff with my spin off band, Pond.
Interview Allan Jones

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Rating: 8 / 10

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