In Pond’s universe nothing stays still for long. Although no one who heard 2019’s Tasmania could possibly describe its pulsating psych-pop as straight, Pond wanted to try a more spontaneous way of working for their next record. They wanted to recapture an anarchic sense of uncertainty and fly closer than ever before to the creative supernova that had blazed across so much of the band’s music.
“We did say to each other, ‘Look, we’ve made three albums of pretty polished psych pop. We’ve earned our reward of doing something completely fucked,” Nick Allbrook says of starting work on what would become Pond’s ninth album. “I’ve always loved divisive music, I really appreciate when people *don’t* like things, but we haven't really done that for a while and it's really nice to just throw out a bit more strange ideas and make something that’s more twisted or whatever.”
Taking a leaf out of krautrock outliers Can’s book, at the start of 2020 Pond embarked on a series of totally off-the-cuff jam sessions from which songs and ideas could be pulled out.
“We had improvised jams and filled up a bunch of tape reels with these improvisations then carefully edited them into something that resembled songs,” he recalls. “We realised after doing these that that’s where true unwritable magic comes from. You can’t write the sort of stuff that you come up with between five people after six hours of noodling. It's completely bizarre.”
The magic in those sessions provided the crucible for 9’s creative leaps into the stratosphere and the sonic smorgasbord within every song. The prog-averse need fear not, though. This is not a record of unfocused, spliffed-out noodling. Far from it. While there are often more ideas than most bands manage in an entire career crammed into a single verse here, Pond’s explorations are funneled into electrifying bursts of pure psych pop joy. No tune even veers past the five minute mark.
Given the pace at which ideas whizz past your head, it makes for a dizzying listen. Opener Song For Agnes explodes out the speakers like an intergalactic rock opera, running a synapse-tingling gauntlet through bubbling synth pop, 80s hair metal and blissed out saxophone before you know what’s hit you.
It’s an apposite curtain-raiser for an album that can encompass pounding techno (Human Touch), elastic hipped robo-funk (America’s Cup), tripped-out motorik (Czech Locomotive) and acres more besides without even stopping for breath.
Take lead single Pink Lunettes, which opens up thumping like ESG eight hours into a session at Berghain before climbing aboard a gargantuan synth-ship and disappearing off over the horizon.
“We thought it would be a good statement of intent,” says Allbrook with a laugh. “I love the messiness of it. Abstract messiness is definitely something we wanted to put across.”
Lyrically, too, 9 takes Pond into uncharted territory. Allbrook’s songs here take a more impressionistic tack than before, resulting in both the hilarious one liners within Human Touch’s gonzoid thrash (sample lyric: “she was jacking a car but she seemed quite nice so I let her use the toilet in my place”) and the social and environmental concerns of blissed out closer Toast, which addressed both last year’s bush fires and the appalling wealth divide in Allbrook’s childhood home in Western Australia.
“I got into a routine of waking up before sunrise and writing about all the quotidian bits that make up my life,” he says of the process. “Like, I’d start off writing something about my slippers that I always get from the same Chinese supermarket in the city and it would veer into something more meaningful.”
Above all though, what you get from 9 is a sense of creative abandon and just plain fun. If it was only a fraction as enjoyable to make as it is to listen to then they must have been having a hoot.
“You can’t finish a record to our standards without having a little period of hair pulling,” he laughs, “but it was. It was really, really fun.”
It definitely comes across. Allbrook might have failed in his wish to make something divisive this time around (even the most contrarian of listeners would have to concede there is literally nothing to dislike here) but no matter, 9 is a wild ride that everyone should get on.