The Natural Lines: The Natural Lines [Album Review]

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The Natural Lines
The Natural Lines
Bella Union [2023]

From his own reporting, indie rocker Matt Pond PA has been trying to quit the music business for years, except for one thing. He says, “The problem is that I can’t stop writing songs.” So even after announcing in 2017 that he was laying his stage moniker—his real name followed by the state the Philadelphia-native called home—to rest, Pond and his close associate Chris Hansen put out two more albums under that name. Evidently, after releasing a dozen or so albums and a similar number of Eps under that name, it took a while to get untangled. Pond has explained that he’s been going through changes: “I quit lying. I checked my harsher tones. I cut my drinking down. I went to therapy and figured out how to stop shouting at cars.” In addition to a program of personal growth, the move to a more inclusive band name, The Natural Lines, is an acknowledgement of his numerous collaborators, but the hint about the reason was delivered in the name of the band’s first single last fall, “The Problem Is Me,” from the EP, First Five.

In The Natural Lines, Pond is still joined by Hansen, a multi-instrumentalist, and a revolving cast of players that includes his romantic partner, vocalist Anya Marina, as well as Sean Hansen (bass/drums), Sarah Hansen (horns), Hilary James (cello/vocals), Louie Lino (keys), Kyle Kelly-Yahner (drums), and additional vocals from Kat Murphy and 17-year-old MJ Murphy. And Pond is still writing catchy, alternative pop/rock songs, that capture his unique perspective, and reflect his new lifestyle choices.

The opening track, “Monotony,” is a folky rocker that builds an artful way around Pond’s observation that pausing in meditation to think about your breathing doesn’t mean you’ve given up expecting more from life, which is followed by the suggestion that increased self-awareness and anger management makes for “No More Tragedies.” In the playful pop/rock of “HELP,” Pond suggests that out growing some behaviors—like standing on the coffee table shouting that it makes him a king and turning down the stereo speakers—might improve relationships with his neighbors. “Alex Bell” references the inventor of the telephone while reflecting on the challenges in communication, over a smart drum beat and even smarter cello part, which coalesces into a richly orchestrated, musical coda.

Another with crisp punctuated cello and string parts accent the driving beat of “My Answer,” where the orchestration throbs with the song’s punctuation as Pond imagines artists being “strange creatures inconceivable.” Cellos and acoustic guitars blend nicely on “Spontaneous Skylights” with lush, basslines a response to the natural physical beauty experienced in nature. “A Scene That Will Never Die” returns to a folk/rock sound, the electric guitars representing a text message making its way “over mountains and lakes” via the internet, while “Person of Interest” builds out a pop song hook around the effort made to make one’s self attractive to another.

Pond and company’s mix of pop/rock mixed with a small string ensemble is especially effective on “Don’t Come Down” where there’s a sturdy momentum in the drums and guitars that pulls the cellos and strings along in a song about perspective, while “Artificial Moonlight” seeks to make the most out of what’s available. The disc closes out with “Mahwah,” an acoustic folk song about being at home in one’s own skin, even if you’ve missed your stop on the train. In the 11 tracks of this debut, Pond continues to write good songs and in The Natural Lines had found a way to step back from the need to force something to happen so that his collaborators and he can breathe a little and let things come together naturally.

“Monotony” / “My Answer” / “No More Tragedies”

The National / Death Cab For Cutie / Guster

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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