I got my first listen to Matt Pond PA’s newest album on a recent drive up to a friend’s lake house in upstate New York. With three of my buddies in the car and nothing to lose, I popped in Last Light, crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t turn out to be some ear-assaulting horror (clearly, I did not know very much about the band at this point). Lucky for me (and my passengers!), this album was not only great, but seemed put together specifically with a road trip in mind.
The first track also shares its name with the album and you couldn’t ask for a better way to start things off. It’s catchy, fun, and has a supremely singable refrain. A listener may be tempted to forget the vaguely menacing lyrics: “you thought that sleep was dying/you thought it was your time to give into the endless night.” In fact, many of the tracks on this album pull off the handy track of melding serious, almost depressing lyrics with hand-clapping melodies. And yes, there are actually hand-claps on a couple of the tracks.
Let it also be noted, however, that Matt Pond PA does slow and sweet too. Track number nine, the minute and a half long “Until The East Coast Ends” is a gorgeously layered, bite-sized love song: “If there’s any truth it comes from you.” Delivering that line without sounding painfully pretentious is practically a feat in itself. Elsewhere, the use of strings, pedal-steel guitar, and even vibraphone add unique touches. If the lyrics don’t get you, then the country-tinged guitar and lovely background harmonies (some provided by Ms. Neko Case herself) should.
But back to those lyrics. The English major in me couldn’t help but noticing that Last Light is, though it may not have been meant as such, sort of a theme album. The leitmotif is, not surprisingly, light. Or more specifically the interplay between light and dark. In “Basement Parties,” the narrator sings about “stealing back this night” because he is weary of the aimless parties where everyone wants to “leave their bodies.” In “Taught To Look Away,” a lonely lover remembers the way the morning light “first hits your hands, touches your face.” The final track, “It’s Not So Bad At All,” brings the album full circle. Darkness and night are no longer causes to be nervous, no longer call to mind impending death. Instead, a sun-stained carpet becomes of a sign that everything’s going to be okay.
As I mentioned before, Matt Pond PA’s new album seems made for a road-trip, especially one through empty roads lined with fall-colored trees, with a slowly sinking red-orange sun making everything shimmer. Even without such an evocative context, however, Last Light definitely has a glow all its own. - Claire Orpeza