Matt Pond Is Pitchforked, But Proud
To put it gently, Pitchfork's opinion of Matt Pond's work has been less than positive. Since the New York-based singer/songwriter and his band (known collectively as Matt Pond PA) got going in the late 1990s, the juggernaut indie-rock site has graded several of their records. Scores have mostly been on the upswing with each ensuing review but still decisively remain within the lower rungs of their grading scale. The Green Fury (2002) scored an especially measly 1.8, 2005's Several Arrows Later got a 4.0, 2007's Last Light a 3.7, and last year's The Dark Leaves earned a 4.8. Each review came from a different writer, and each was painful in its own way, occasionally throwing out faint praise.
A smattering of the daggers contained within said reviews: Green Fury contains "tepid" songs, akin to "an extravagantly wrapped Christmas present with socks and underwear inside"; there is no "actual friction amidst such downy arrangements" on The Dark Leaves; Last Light was "another Matt Pond PA album steeped in adult alternative at its blandest"; and his voice has been compared to those of Dave Matthews and Counting Crows' Adam Durwitz—and that's not a good thing.
Pond is familiar with Pitchfork's viewpoints and does little to mask his reaction to their reactions. "They don't like me and they don't want people to like me," he says. "There are people that work there that like our music, but they're not going to give it to those people to review." He stopped keeping up on Pitchfork reviews years ago because he would "read them [to] the point of self-torture. It's kind of a joke because whatever we do or I do, they're not going to like it. It's like a directive at the place." For example, Pond posits that Dave Matthews and Counting Crows are used as tools of derision in this context, especially as he doesn't believe his work sounds like those artists. In contrast, he prefers invoking Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young as songwriters he might not sound like but aspires to become as good as.
Pitchfork does have some valid gripes with Pond's music, and an outsider identifying an artist's faults goes far in fleshing out the work's context. Looking at The Dark Leaves, his angelic rock lacks an emotional nakedness that turns the best folk and indie rock into an unfathomably deep connection between songwriter and listener—a revelation transported from one person to another via song. His portraits of nature are beautiful and idyllic but lack a bluntness or inflection or je ne sais quoi that could give them inescapable definition. Pond's metaphors and visuals resonate with the force of a light wind instead of a hurricane.
But Pond has his positives, too. Even when his melodies don't stick, his songs contain a rich shine, and his breathy, careful singing suits his scenery well. Pond's organic imagery doesn't break any new ground but has a genial warmth. The opening of Leaves' "Speck" exemplifies this: "Up above, I see specks of silver in the evening sky/Specks of gold in the river running from the deep moonlight/See us shake in the wild distortion of the water's waves/Still I know you in the darkness shining from a mile away."
Strangely, he's more incisive away from the guitar. The Brooklyn resident wrote The Dark Leaves in a cabin in woodsy Bearsville, New York, and he discusses his fascination with nature with great clarity. "I can't be comfortable in the city. It doesn't fit my skin right," he says, noting how he grew up in New Hampshire. "[Writing about nature is] the only way I know how to talk about people. You don't have to go [to nature]. You can just sit and curse your small New York City apartment and wish you were somewhere."
Sometime soon, Matt Pond PA will wrap up and release a new EP. There's an excellent possibility it will be filled with descriptions of forestry; there's also a decent chance that Pitchfork will give it a look. "I don't even care about bad reviews anymore. They're kind of cool. Once you get beat up enough times, it's like, 'Fuck it.' It's a part of being tough," says Pond, maybe learning from these trials. "If you're going to make music, you're gonna have people that don't like it, no matter who you are."
This article appeared in print as "Pitchforked, But Proud: Matt Pond responds to his toughest critic and talks about what’s worth learning from those rips."
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