Pond Swap Psych-Rock for Post-Punk on their anti-capitalist manifesto “9”
Pond, the psychedelic rock quartet from Perth, Australia, seem to enjoy political confrontation. This is most obvious on their last album 9, where they undermine any redemptive qualities that capitalism can have by showing how progress and consumption in a capitalist society inevitably means destruction. By using a barcode-like image as the cover of their album, they even accuse themselves and the listener of actively participating in this capitalist death drive.
Although the last two discs of Pond Tasmania and Weather explore political themes such as colonialism and wealth, 9 goes further with these concepts and integrates them into its production and marketing. On Zoom, frontman Nick Allbrook explains that they wanted to remove “the whimsy of a typical album” from the way a Brecht piece shows the audience the backdrop and the stagehands behind a stage to show the front of it all. . âI think this fits in with a new pseudo-industrial ripple of what we kind of imagined the album to be,â he says. âIt didn’t quite turn into Metal Machine Music as we thought when we started. But that was our intention. That’s why the cover looks like a barcode.
Aiming to create their version of this Lou Reed record, they choose not to call on Kevin Parker to produce, a first in 10 years for the group, made up of former tour members and collaborators of Tame Impala.. Instead, multi-instrumentalist Jay Watson and drummer James Ireland took over production and mixing duties, ditching Parker’s sweet psych-rock touch and replacing it with rhythmic electronic post-punk. Allbrook also played a pivotal role in Pond’s navigation in this new sonic territory, with all the isolation in the world offered by COVID-19., Allbrook drew on what he describes as âviolent musicâ. He subconsciously gravitated towards experimental post-punk like Public Image Ltd, Suicide, The Contorsions and all that contained a marriage of melodies with abrasive production, obscene lyrics and repetitions. It was an influence that inevitably took root in 9.
âI think it fits in with a new pseudo-industrial ripple of what we kind of imagined the album to be. It didn’t quite turn into Metal Machine Music as we thought when we started.
A perfect representation of Allbrook’s free energy and post-punk influence can be found in “Pink Glasses”, a song made up of band loops, screams and abstract lyrics. Bandmate Watson is the one who came up with the initial concept, a loop made up of jarring electronic bursts. To Allbrook, it felt like some kind of drug addiction, prompting him to read random lyrics in his notebook. “There are a few lines from Leonard Cohen’s book Favorite game in there. I just screamed into a take, I think most of it is what we used in the end. I wanted him to have manic energy. The instrumental has just claimed it. The instrumental is fast and sounds like amphetamines. And that required a quick, abstract voice.
Perth and Fremantle, towns where many of the band members grew up, are the backdrop to many of the 9 songs too. Allbrook enthusiastically extracts material from these cities, examining how these places have changed and how capitalism has erased their past and keeps certain groups, especially the indigenous peoples who live in these cities, on the fringes. According to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare, around 37% of Indigenous Australians aged 15 and over had adjusted weekly household incomes in the bottom 20%, and only 9% of Indigenous Australians were in the top percentile of income. The wealth gap in Australia is shocking when it comes to the indigenous population.
It’s this obscene inequality that Allbrook indirectly explores on the single “Toast,” a song that pokes fun at the forgetfulness of the rich as they drink champagne as the world burns around them. The imagery of the song is Lynchian as Allbrook juxtaposes scenes of toasting with images of the end of the world. It was in part inspired by the real town of Broome, Australia, which invests heavily in tourism while leaving poor natives behind.
âYou go for a camel ride, you go to the Matso brasserie, you drink a glass of champagne and you look at the stairs that lead to paradise. But the rest of the city really suffers from poverty, drug addiction, diabetes, and all the other things that were brought to native culture by the European invasion.
âThere are beautiful beaches in Broome, and a lot of white tourists go there. And one of the things that it says on the tourist brochures that you âjust have to doâ is go to Cable Beach and sit in that particular restaurant and watch the sunset with it. a glass of champagne, âsays Allbrook emphatically. âYou go for a camel ride, you go to the Matso brasserie, you drink a glass of champagne and you look at the stairs that lead to paradise. But the rest of the city is really suffering. He really suffers from poverty, drug addiction, diabetes and all the other things that were brought to aboriginal culture by the European invasion.
Pond’s harsh criticism peaked on another single, “America’s Cup”. The title refers to a huge boat race in 1983 that changed the economic and cultural landscape of Fremantle. Before a large influx of money was pumped into the city, it was a fishing town made up of immigrants from Italy, China and Southeast Asia. The flashiest things to be found there at the time were the quaint Italian cafes that served espressos on the terraces, giving upper-class white Australians the fantasy of feeling European.
âIt’s crazy to think that this billion dollar boat race has changed the trajectory of this small port town,â Allbrook says of the changes that have taken place. “And when you walk around there and you see those ghosts from the days before, when Fremantle was a gritty port town with a few performers and smackheads doing their thing surrounded by Italian sailors and fishermen.” What a ridiculous story history and reality write. Their whole Wonderland has been turned upside down by this billion dollar boat race and a bogan playboy named Alan Bond. Similar to neighborhoods invading wealth in major American cities, like Brooklyn or Echo Park, a similar gentrification has occurred in Fremantle. But instead of refurbished social housing and refurbished dive bars, Fremantle ended up with old Italian espresso bars and fisheries, places where the wealthy go to binge on fresh oysters and brew gourmet espresso while the working class is looking sideways.
“If you’re having a shit time, your girlfriend broke up with you, you threw up in your hat, lost your shoes, missed your cab, and you’re going swimming and it’s full of shit, you can only really piss and laugh.
Even if 9 can be very cynical, Pond tries to balance that with comedy, injecting ridiculous one-liners into their songs until parody. Allbrook says he does this to challenge the listener because he believes art can be both serious and comedic. It may even be an impetus for some sort of sweeping acceptance, similar to how Zen Buddhists say paradoxical koans to help people achieve enlightenment. “If you’re having a shit time, your girlfriend broke up with you, you threw up in your hat, lost your shoes, missed your cab, and you’re going swimming and it’s full of shit, you can only really piss and laugh. I mean it just keeps being awful. I guess that’s part of saying things out loud and accepting that they exist, âAllbrook says.
Is this a good way to get people to confront the systemic problems caused by capitalism? May be. Joni Mitchell sang that laughing and crying are the same exit. And there’s something good about being able to express deep frustrations by turning them into jokes. It brings topics to a level where they can be safely explored, where questions can be asked, and where they can be rearranged into something new. Yet a change of perspective alone will not change our material situation. Something material must change. Florida