Pond Aren't Quite Sharp Enough on 'Stung!'

BY Matthew TeklemariamPublished Jun 20, 2024


Can the joy of experimentation go rote? If anybody knows, it would be Australian headcases Pond. Their kitchen-sink approach to sludge-skewing, pop-inflected lysergy has made them persistent cult faves fifteen years since their debut. Although mostly confined within the nebulous acid/jam/garage-rock ghetto that wastes a crate at your local record store, they usually make good use of space given. Close association to guitar-Jesus Kevin Parker has kept them prominent in a roytish Australian rock scene that's beginning to feel a bit cramped, as well as the crate-digger collective consciousness. A heaping of classic rock influence and whatever latent psychoactive element lives in Australia's water supply helps, too.

The sprawling, psychoperatic Tasmania had them ease up on frenzied harmony for careful melody, at which they're quite adept. It also took them into weirder intellectual pastures when, surprise! They actually had something to say. But last album 9 let a swoop of dyed-black hair down with sneering pop-punk influence to mediocre effect, and their recent rash of moralism in the mode of King Gizzard's armchair-conservatism doesn't quite suit their devilry.

If the demure cover didn't clue you in, Stung! finds Pond feeling more ebb than flow, muted in disposition and hyperactivity. Opener "Constant Picnic" is a mid-tempo, red-eyed awakening into Pond's Spector-meets-THX approach to production, an ostensible ballad of love and confirmed charmer. Quasi-title track "(I'm) Stung" is disappointingly lead-footed; that we've known it for three months doesn't lessen the dissatisfaction any.

But on "Neon River", they take off. It's a Zep-in-their-step pure tickler, all gloriously textured guitar riff and rhythm when it breaks from a downtempo fantasy saga. It's relentless in its rip, especially with a background full of laser salvos, arcade violence and C-beam glitter. For best effect, roll down (or smash) your windows. And then "So Lo" makes for a double A-side of emulatory success when it embraces Talking Heads' nerve-funk on an honest-to-goodness excuse to get down. Don't believe me? Dig these post-modern poetics: "All this suffering is all a part of being / Making sense at all seems so Sisyphean."

Lyrically, they're back to the unfettered delirium of which Pond was once so fond, last few records notwithstanding. Listen or don't, you'll likely glean the best of it anyway. A savvier critic may be able to identify the sonic weaponry in use here, but some personal appeal from Pond comes from the sense of music conjured directly from consciousness, riffs and all. Case in point, "Black Lung" which spells doom with resonant flourish. A dirge for dirge's sake that gives credence to the stoner-rock aspersions with guitar fuzz thick enough for rug burn. Pure metal made lighter than black with playful vocoding.

The record's first two-thirds are very well-paced, from bashfully stoned ballads to instrumental to extended Floydian romp. It makes it all the stranger to see the album fall apart toward the end, where indistinct sanguine ballads are sent to die. A hitherto expertly controlled buzz is bogged down by demos fleshed out in perfunctory fashion. The obligatory Elvis tribute is okay, but even saving grace "O, UV Ray" is a total redundancy in both titular subject and vibe. A Something's Extra EP this ain't, especially unforgivable in the final stretch when economy is paramount. Eyes on the road, Pond.

Given Pond's penchant for diversity, it's hard not to recommend Stung! on the basis of attention management alone, even when it persists well after the good ideas have been rolled up and smoked. The band still harbors the capacity for invention and that aforementioned joy of experiment. At their least inspired, they're still convivial enough with the multi-tracked vocals of their heathenly host and whatnot. The order of operatics is ultimately where this album lives and dies, which is a bummer of a technicality. They can hardly sustain their inherent ingenuity for an entire hour. Then again, can you? 

(Spinning Top)

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