Pond has always struggled to establish an identity. To some extent, that was always going to be the case for a psychedelic rock band emerging out of Western Australia in the 2010s that was not named Tame Impala. Pond’s unique relationship to Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker also made comparisons inevitable — members of Pond have performed alongside Parker in Tame Impala live shows, and Parker himself was a member of Pond in some capacity until 2019.
For what it’s worth, Parker’s direct influence on Pond is responsible for some of their best material. Their 2012 album Beard, Wives, Denim is an upbeat psychedelic rock record with an unmistakable Kevin Parker sound: distorted guitars, reverb-heavy vocals and a live drum line meticulously performed by Parker himself. Pond found a great sound, but over the next seven years, they hardly expanded upon it. While Tame Impala aggressively pushed their musical boundaries in the late 2010s on Currents and The Slow Rush, Pond stuck to their guns, never falling flat completely but steadily becoming less and less interesting. Their consistent musical style left something to be desired, but why would they change their Tame Impala-influenced sound that already had the blessing of Kevin Parker himself?
Exiting 2020, Pond was ready for a big change musically. 9 is their first album since 2012 not produced by Kevin Parker, and not coincidentally, 9 is their most ambitious record yet. While Pond doesn’t completely abandon their established style on 9, they frequently show a willingness to try new ideas, often to great success. The opening track, “Song For Agnes,” is an example of Pond successfully incorporating new ideas into their existing sound. The song has a familiar instrumental groove but is bookended by a powerful acapella vocal opening by French singer Maud Nadal and a distant, lo-fi saxophone solo that fades into the next song, “Human Touch.”
Throughout the record, Pond continues to explore new ideas. “Human Touch” features a crunchy, compressed drum sound and relatively clean vocals, essentially the exact opposite of the Kevin Parker-produced sound that once defined them. The album is also subtly influenced by different genres: “Pink Lunettes” features an up-tempo, rough techno sound, “Rambo” mixes a drum machine with live drums and “America’s Cup” briefly uses a high-pass filter to change tone abruptly. None of these elements is a jarring departure from the band’s previous output, but, combined, they give the record a refreshingly original sound.
Even though Pond’s experimentation is accentuated throughout the record, the foundations of Pond’s sound are stronger than ever. While “Toast” does feature drum machines and a saxophone solo, it also features a strong instrumental texture of contrasting voices: a relatively clean guitar solo, gooey synth pads and a playful bassline. Pond’s impressive commitment to both their conventional psychedelic sound and brand new musical ideas results in a great track that concludes the album nicely.
Throughout their existence, Pond has reliably put out solid psychedelic rock, even as their safe approach led to a predictable and tiresome sound. On 9, however, the band finally breaks the mold, and the result is their most fun and engaging record in years. While Kevin Parker deserves credit for his significant influence on Pond’s past material, 9 is an impressive showcase of what the band is capable of on their own.
Daily Arts Contributor Jack Moeser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.