One of the great ironies of psychedelia, especially modern psychedelia, is that despite all the implications of mind expansion and far-out-ed-ness, the tropes of the genre are actually fairly limited. Take some wavy vocals, a fuck-ton of fuzz, and a hefty “dose” of delay and you’ve got an instant dorm room classic. That formula usually works best when it’s plugged into a more rigid structure, like that of a pop song, forcing its flights of fancy to remain tethered to some more focused center. But more often than not, the formula doesn’t work, and the resultant music can tend to come across as not just boring and meandering, but amateurish.
Pond’s latest, Hobo Rocket, finds itself floating amongst the space whales somewhere between those two extremes, a position which is not only disappointing but fairly surprising. On last year’s Beard, Wives, Denim, the Aussie collective (which features several members of Tame Impala) managed to reign in some of the more experimental facets of their previous efforts and came away with a solid gem of a pop record. Make no mistake: These tracks were still as sticky with resin as anything Pond had ever done. But the freakouts weren’t just tasteful; they served as a satisfying seasoning to the songs…which is precisely where Hobo Rocket loses its way.
Inverting the jam-serves-the-song formula that worked so well for them on Beard, Wives, Denim, Pond has made a record so chock full of psychedelic supernovas that there’s literally no room for actual songs. From start to finish, Hobo Rocket luxuriates in outer space but never takes the time to come back down to Earth to give the listener anything to grab onto. The nonsensical platitudes of “Xanman” and “Giant Tortoise” surely hit that optimum vibration for consumerus inebriatus, but don’t leave much for the rest of us to relish.
Pond is obviously a very talented outfit — and let’s face it, they don’t owe the listener a thing. The history of psychedelic rock is littered with such questionable sonic experiments — you don’t have to go much further than the majority of the modern day Flaming Lips catalog for proof of that — but it doesn’t make those experiments any less disappointing when they fall flat. In the end though, how you take in Pond’s latest is totally dependent on your expectations. If all you’re looking for is an excuse to strap on your headphones and ride the sonic seas on the backs of said space whales for some thirty-odd minutes (an ironically short runtime for such an aggressively out-there record) then Hobo Rocket is sure to be exactly the fix you’ve been looking for. But if you’re looking for a little more to think about than “whoa man” while you take in an album, then you’re probably better off dialing it back to Pond’s 2012 release and holding out hope that the band’s next orbit brings them a little closer to terra firma instead of leaving them lost in space.