Matt Pond has established himself as an artist who expertly crafts tunes that feel like they were tailor-made for sad teenagers yearning to feel sophisticated. The State of Gold finds Pond, who has spent close to two decades writing chamber pop-tinged guitar rock, pulling a sonic U-turn. It doesn’t feel out of line with his body of work thus far — just maybe more diluted, less visceral, less urgent.
Pond’s subtlety, unfortunately, has been traded in for something bolder on his 11th studio album, The State of Gold. Pond doesn’t fail completely at executing this mid-career shift, but the manner with which he accomplishes it feels generic. Songs like opener “More No More” almost scan like one of those tongue-in-cheek instructional videos on how to write an indie rock song. This one is pure “How To Write A Synthpop Anthem”: slow build to the chorus, followed by aggressively optimistic lyrics (“I used to live with doubt, I don’t know doubt, not anymore, no more, no more, no more”). The whole thing might be easier to stomach if Pond went out on a limb and demonstrated that he was in control of this new sound, rather than the other way around. Instead, he gets locked into its conventions.
“Have to Know” almost sounds like it got left on the cutting room floor for a Julio Iglesias album in the early ’80s. “Felt so lucky to be lied to by you,” Pond sings. The song is pretty in a schmaltzy kind of way, but it doesn’t feel like Pond is in on the joke. Other artists have pulled this trick off; On “Beth / Rest”, from 2011’s Bon Iver, Justin Vernon unapologetically pushes the schmaltz factor over the top with saxophone solos and tinkling piano, daring you to hate a sound that he clearly loves. Songs like “Take Me With You” could, frankly, fit right in on Taylor Swift’s 1989. “When we run away, let’s really run, when we come undone, let’s really come,” Pond sings, lyrics that would feel at home in the pop star’s repertoire — with the exception, perhaps, of the innuendo in the second part of that lyric.
The State of Gold is a perfectly competent album, but after Pond’s 17 years in the music biz, competent isn’t enough. The primary problem with The State of Gold is that it exhibits a failure of imagination, as though the only sounds that can possibly be made with all of these new tools are all of the sounds that have already been made with them before.
Essential Tracks: “Have to Know”, “Take Me With You”