Music for the Masses
The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand is a title that could signify different things—that this will be an album of poetically profound introspection and thorough reflection, or that it’s trying much too hard to achieve that kind of depth. Unfortunately, Matt Pond’s newest album tends toward the latter. This isn’t to say that Lives isn’t a pleasant listen; rather, Pond’s pop sensibilities are on overdrive, stifling any quirkiness in a varnished exoskeleton, a veneer of catchy choruses and saccharine melodies that sacrifies passion for polish.
On Lives, Matt Pond (formerly known as Matt Pond PA) drops the state abbreviation from his name to show that he’s struck off on his own, that this is a new, solo iteration of his sound. And though several tracks have made appearances on previous records (including his Spring Fools EP from 2011 and Lines, from 2012), this new sound isn’t the Matt Pond PA of indie fame. Lives is a pop album, meticulously composed and produced to appeal to the masses with bountiful hooks that are enjoyable, but not memorable. The opener “Let Me Live,” with its upbeat synths, bouncy piano, and chorus of enthusiastic “whoa-oh”s is a nice but uninteresting tune, and “Love to Get Used,” the album’s single, is a hooky pop-punk track with the same jouncy beat and trilling guitar melodies. They’re simple pop songs, almost what it would sound like if those pop-punk bands of the early 2000s had grown up and given up their irrepressible spiky-haired energy for suburbia, family life, and a slot on the Top 40 countdown.
This crowdpleaser-pop gets overwhelming on “Hole in My Heart” and the title track, where Pond lays on layers upon layers of synthesizers and guitars and piano, building huge crescendos that want to be epic, emotional ballads. But they’re too generic, too over-produced, to generate the kind of real, honest feeling Pond seems to want so desperately to express. It would be better if he stuck to the folksier sound of “Strafford,” named after a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania, not far from King of Prussia, which has a low, bassy guitar spinning a warm and tumbling melody. “Strafford,” along with the banjo-infused track “Human Beings,” the sweet “Starlet,” and “Go Where the Leaves Go,” attest that exploring a sound that’s a little less glitzy and varnished might better showcase Pond’s considerable talent.
Although The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand is no groundbreaking exertion, it is a pleasant jaunt through a slew of polished pop tunes. Hopefully next time Pond will dig deeper, leave his music grittier, and maybe even throw in a banjo or two.