Review: POND ‘Sessions’
Words by Cole Costello
Graphic by POND
Pond can be described in many ways, but boring is never one of them. In 2009, fans were introduced to the group by home-recorded debut Psychedelic Mango, and over the last ten years, they have rooted themselves firmly as stalwarts modern psychedelia. But to limit them to spacier realms of prog and the psychedelic would do them little justice.
On their more recent albums Tasmania, Man It Feels Like Space Again and The Weather, Pond’s music has come alive with flourishes of pop, disco, and a shot of funk. Just as the band has seen a number of faces come and go, so too have its musical elements shifted around the ever-constant presence of Nicholas Allbrook, Jay Watson, and Shiny Joe Ryan.
Something which has not changed though is the caliber of their performances. Seeing Pond live is truly an experience. The band combines the natural showmanship and off-the-wall energy of Nick Allbrook with layered synths, groovy bass, and glorious guitar lines. Their latest album Sessions gives listeners their first recorded taste of the band live and the outcome is a richly satisfying interpretation of many of Perth outfit’s live staples.
Anyone who has seen Pond live will talk about Nick’s stage presence. His gyrations and spasms of energy elevate every song. And from Session’s first track, ‘Daisy,’ his vocals feel just as intimate and emotional as they do live. Once the drums get going it’s also clear that James Ireland’s presence in the group is growing. Several times throughout, notably later in the back half of ‘Burnt Out Star’, the drums seem to take center stage with Ireland delivering authoritative and driving rhythms.
After ‘Daisy’ comes two songs from The Weather. ‘Paint Me Silver’ works remarkably well live with a much more clean, smooth guitar leading the hook than its album counterpart. This version may ultimately be better than The Weather’s. With time Pond seems to have settled into a more natural sound. He sings much lower, and overall sounds more unrefined, which definitely makes this track sound more personal. This is a great example of one of the band’s songs which has grown with them. ‘Sweep Me Off My Feet’ doesn’t work quite as well though Sessions listeners are still given a solid version of it.
‘Don’t Look at the Sun (Or You’ll Go Blind)’ is a song that has probably grown and evolved dozens of times over in its lifespan. The ‘studio’ version – originally recorded in Allbrook’s parent’s house – is little more than a rough outline of what it has become live. The song’s runtime on Sessions has more than doubled from when it debuted on Psychedelic Mango. More layered with synths and percussive beats, the twists and turns in the live arrangement present it a far more fleshed out song. Here Pond’s evolution over the years is illustrated brilliantly, ‘Don’t Look at the Sun (Or You’ll Go Blind)’ flows through all of the band’s elemental shades, making nods to ESG and the Prodigy as it does.
‘Hand Mouth Dancer’ is another fine inclusion, if not for anything more than its intimate display of Nick’s talents. ‘Burnt Out Star’ quickly overshadows it though, and much of the other material on the album. Starting with distorted vocal lines over the synth, Nick again sings in a beautiful, brokenhearted half-whisper before whipping out the flute to play behind Jay’s vocals in the chorus. The second part is wonderful, with very pronounced drums and shimmering guitars from Shiny Joe. This feels like it will be the definitive version of the song from this point onward. Whether they are on glockenspiel, drums, flute or guitar, every member of Pond is firing off at their best.
After ‘Burnt Out Star‘, ‘Tasmania’ comes next and is admittedly a bit of a let-down after such a high, as is follow up ‘Fire in the Water’. Both may just suffer from another case of the studio version being so good the live recording doesn’t feel as right (though Jay’s bass playing is a highlight).
The closing trio of ‘The Weather,’ ‘Medicine Hat,’ and ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’ sound utterly triumphant. ‘The Weather,’ the closer off the album of the same name, begins with the same breezy guitar strums to heard earlier with ‘Burnt Out Star’. Again, Nick’s vocals are perfect. Looping effortlessly under the chord progression, the song’s bassline has clearly evolved since it was released in 2018. By the time Nick picks up his guitar around the three minute and 25 seconds mark, the listener is enveloped in the ecstasy of the moment. It feels as if Sessions could end on a supremely satisfying note right here. Then ‘Medicine Hat’ hits.
‘Medicine Hat’ is a subtle gem in Pond’s discography. The album cut begins as a cozy, affectionate, acoustic trip with Shiny Joe. The Sessions version may have hung up the acoustic, but it still feels just as heartfelt. The song’s second half, which on Man It Feels Like Space Again comes as something of an explosion, is softer and more subtle here, working to heighten the emotion even more. Once again, this version could very well be the better cut than its album counterpart. Hopefully, it will create some much-needed awareness for this overlooked Pond classic.
Ending on the highest of highs, Pond pull out ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’ and start showing off. Another live staple, ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’ is a meandering journey of a song, flowing from suite to suite and amplifying with every turn. By the end, when the listener is wrapped in the comforting synths and shrieking guitar, it can be hard to even remember where they’ve been. This is Pond at Pond’s best – melodies coming and going, everything seemingly hanging by a thread, and the band driving into each new twist with even more energy than the last, and then holding things together tighter than it may first have seemed.
Over the course of Sessions, it is not difficult to see why Pond has become one of the most popular live acts within modern psychedelic music. Their energy and musicianship, along with natural showmanship and playful demeanor, make it impossible for this record to be anything other than a great spin. Sessions should not be a substitute for physically seeing Pond live, but it is a wonderful listen no Pond fan should skip. Sessions may not be the full frenzy of a Pond show, but it absolutely stands as the next best thing.