Matt Pond PA’s brand of indie-pop may have landed a track on “The O.C.” soundtrack, but don’t judge the band solely on their rehashed cover of Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” or the fact that it was played during an reenactment of the oh-so-famous Spiderman kiss. The band has more to offer: with lush instrumentation and a unique fusion of guitar, strings and drums, Matt Pond PA manages to balance emotional sincerity and universal accessibility. Their fifth album, “Several Arrows Later,” features upbeat, ebullient rhythms that result in a well-orchestrated sound. Ultimately though, the album falters because of tiresome repetition and unfulfilled potential.
Having largely toiled under the radar of a more mainstream audience, Matt Pond PA is perfectly poised to expand their fan base. Opening for Guster on their current tour, the band will promote their latest from “Several Arrows Later” — material that is sweetly entertaining but doesn’t reach the height of previous albums. “Emblems,” the group’s fourth album, allowed the music to build to a climax, combining smooth guitar melodies, subtle drumming and pleasing vocals. Unfortunately, “Several Arrows Later” falls short of the accomplishments of “Emblems,” with pulsing baseline rhythms that fail to evolve into anything interesting.
Amidst the album’s insistent overuse of stock rhythms, there are a few well-crafted songs that showcase the band’s true abilities through utterly meticulous instrumentation. “City Song,” which blends syncopated drumming with a somber cello, evokes a poignant sense of contentment. Each instrument traverses in and out of the foreground during the verses of the song, only to smoothly meld together in the chorus — the result is a beautiful juxtaposition of musical phrases and complicated harmonies.
Although most of the album relies heavily on repetitious cadences, on “It Is Safe” Matt Pond PA utilizes persistent rhythm to their benefit. The opening of the song injects a haunting guitar into the tranquility of a quiet piano melody, shattering the soothing direction of the song with a turn towards the darker side. The richness of the ever-present cello is featured prominently on this track, imbuing the song with a sense of depth that is lacking on the rest of the album. The vocals and the instrumentation chromatically descend throughout the verses and then spring forward during the chorus, recalling the nostalgia of summer expressed in the retrospective lyrics.
Falling in the middle of “Several Arrows Later,” the song “Emblems” has faster baseline beats and intensely resonant vocals, which is a change from the head-bopping euphoria of many of the other tracks. But the track isn’t memorable because it gets lost in the muddle of competing rhythms. At one point, the lyrics blandly repeat the syllable “Da,” which, in conjunction with the incessant drum rolls, results only in throbbing head-pounding.
Aside from “City Song” and “It Is Safe,” the remaining songs on the CD are overly uniform, taking easy listening to an unwelcome extreme. “Several Arrows Later” opens and closes with effervescent tracks that ultimately lack enough substance to differentiate them. The opener, “Halloween,” mixes cascading guitar arpeggios with thumping drums to generate a pleasant but excessively calculated sentiment. The closer, “Devil in the Water,” has the same bubbly rhythm and lackluster melody, ending the album on the same contrived note on which it began.
“Several Arrows Later” is the kind of album that gradually improves with every listen, becoming all the more accessible. Matt Pond PA explores the “pop” of indie-pop a little too enthusiastically, toppling the balance between the two genres mastered on their previous albums. By allowing overplayed baseline rhythms to dominate on “Several Arrows Later,” these musicians sadly sacrifice some of their signature sound for mediocrity.