The Australian psychedelic rock band realized it was good enough to take itself seriously.
It’s easy to think of Pond as a Tame Impala spin-off or farm team, but it’s more accurate to think of the two Australian bands from Perth as a community of musicians with similar tastes who get together in whatever configuration works at the moment. Tame Impala front man Kevin Parker produces the band and played drums on The Weather, the most recent album from Pond, and guitarist/keyboard player Jay Watson is a full-time member of both bands and his own solo side project, Gum. All three bands play psychedelic rock with Pond on the Flaming Lips axis, where moments of lush, undeniable beauty balance punk impulses.
Nick Allbrook leads Pond, which will play a sold out show at Gasa Gasa Tuesday night. He also played in Tame Impala as well from 2009 to 2013, and despite its loose membership, the group is democratic and tries to feature all of its songwriters. The Weather includes the nominal Christmas song “All I Want for Xmas (is a Tascam 388)” because it was the best song Joe Ryan submitted.
“We like keeping a bit of the old Pond silliness,” Allbrook says, but the song has truth in it. Ryan bought a Tascam 388 eight-track recorder while on an American tour, and he was anxious during the entire tour that it wouldn’t survive the road trip.
“He was just fantasizing about it being safely home in his loving arms,” Allbrook says.
The Weather dials down the silliness and raw aggression in favor of songs that freshen up ‘70s and ’80s song structures and melodies. “Paint Me Silver” and “Sweep Me Off My Feet” would have sounded futuristic but at home on AM radio in 1975, while the icy synth funk of “Colder Than Ice” would have sounded great on any ’80s weekly video countdown. They’re so solid that you know the choruses before the end of the first listen, and you can remember them. According to Allbrook, the songs didn’t immediately present themselves as obviously good musical ideas at first, and were all “embryonic” until some point in the recording process when the quality of the songs starts to become clear.
“We were fairly clinical with that album,” he says. “We used to be really bad with just layering too much stuff and screwing it up, then having to back up and delete some of the fat out it. We tried to be pretty precise and not saturate the song with noise.”
He asserts, “That’s the only way to screw up a good song,” then immediately corrects himself. “No, there are plenty of ways!” When asked if he has screwed up good songs, Allbrook searches for the answer.
“Yeah. Probably. Nah. They’re just what they are.”
That tension between Pond’s history of offhandedness and a more deliberate approach animates The Weather. It only occasionally sounds like a band at play, but even its most serious moments come with the fun of a band rising to the moments that the songs call for. It’s a tension Pond is feeling its way through because it reflects a change in their tastes. On the earlier albums, they could be satisfied by whatever words fit if they found a musical jam they liked, but now “we’re more into honesty and emotional transparency,” Allbrook says. It’s a change that is partly a function of realizing that Pond is good enough to merit more fully realized songs and partly a function of growing up.
Allbrook said in an interview with Pop Matters that, “none of us are really enamored with lo fi chic as we once were.” That affection is obvious on Pond’s earlier albums, but less so on The Weather. It’s another place where growing up has made the band less doctrinaire and ready to embrace their contradictions. Allbrook admits that he’s as up for a Calvin Harris track as a Velvet Underground bootleg, and that Pond’s sound is now closer to Harris than the Velvets.
“I love imagining people I would never see or hang out with bumping the song in the car and getting their shit moving,” Allbrook says. “It’s a less intellectual pleasure, which appeals to me.”
Allbrook’s newfound interest in honesty also comes, he says, from “looking around more than looking in. It comes with the times. Everything’s really visible and visibly dire.” That direness is reflected most immediately on The Weather by “30000 Megatons,” which envisions a massive blast of atomic justice. “30,000 Megatons is just what we deserve,” he sings.
Allbrook wrote the song before America elected Donald Trump president, but Australia’s politics were just as disturbing. “Tiny Abbott was prime minister of Australia, and he’s the Trump of Australian history,” he says. The song came on a grim morning when he couldn’t get out of bed, temporarily defeated by the idea that people would elect someone so transparently mean and selfish. While laying there, he scrolled through the Internet and ran across the factoid that there are 30,000 megatons of nuclear weapons on Earth.
“It brought me to tears,” he says. “We’ve created this super-excessive means of suicide. We’ve symbolically stated that we don’t give a fuck about ourselves, our fellow people or our planet. But I don’t stand by that cynicism anymore. Having some joy and positivity is the only productive thing you can do.”