Published Nov 11, 2016New Englanders have a rather turbulent relationship with the winter months, so it's no surprise that New Hampshire native Matt Pond, creative force and namesake behind upstate New York-based indie-[op band Matt Pond PA is able to mine creative inspiration from that particular time of year. Winter Lives is a 12-track tribute to winter set during Pond's formative years in his native state that picks up where the band's 2005 EP, Winter Songs, leaves off.
Having released 11 long-players and eight EPs since 1998, Matt Pond PA (PA being the abbreviated form of Pennsylvania where the band was formed) are veteran musicians in every sense of the word, and that experience shines through here via longtime band member Chris Hansen's crisp production efforts. Hansen also adds his guitar proficiency to the record alongside core member Shawn Alpay's excellent cello and string arrangements.
Pond himself is the band's primary songwriter, and contributes guitar and his trademark lead vocals that reside in the upper registers. He also executes some bright harmonies with album guests Laura Burhenn of Mynabirds and Leslie Sisson of Moving Panoramas.
Unfortunately, most of the gains achieved on this album through strong production values, competent arrangements and seasoned musicianship are lost with the thinness of the songwriting. For instance, album opener "In Winter" combines a wholly uninspiring melody with generic lines such as "the cold will bring us close" to badly miss the desired target. Ditto for track seven, "Whoa," which for starters repeats drawn out vocal variations on the word "whoa" far too many times, then contains indolent lyrical content like, "shivers going straight down to my bones." The penultimate track, "Winter Lives," doesn't pack much of a punch either with a tawdry, slightly grating melody.
The album isn't a total loss, though. "Force of Nature" energizes things a bit with anthemic flair, and "Dirty Looks" is an engrossing track with some lyrical ambiguity that at least gets the listener thinking a bit. There are also instrumental interludes between tracks that break up the flow of the album in a mildly interesting way, as well as a pretty decent cover of Beach House's "Used To Be." The Cocteau Twins' "Fotzepolitic" is also covered here.
Winter Lives isn't a terrible album, but it's also not great. It's a strongly produced, pleasant sounding project with not a lot of all-embracing depth or meaning. In other words, it's something light and plain, to ease us into another challenging winter season. (131 Records)