Album Review: PJ Bond – Where Were You?

By on Wednesday, 6th May 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

PJ Bond Where Were You coverFormer punk musician PJ Bond has just released his second studio album ‘Where Were You?’ via Xtra Mile Recordings, home of fellow folk-punk crossover artists Frank Turner and Skinny Lister. Bond’s more recent Americana-folk style, which is infused with a just a hint of punk rock energy, fits in perfectly with the genre-bending mentality currently being nurtured at Xtra Mile, which we first heard described in an interview with labelmates Skinny Lister at SXSW 2015. Bond describes his own relationship with the record label in a positive way as well:

“Xtra Mile is one of the rare labels where it seems that they put out music that they truly believe in, and are not so much constrained by genre that they’ll question whether or not it is a ‘good idea’. This approach by clearly music-loving people is what drew me most to XMR, and was supported by everyone with whom I spoke about them. Honesty, respect, heart, these are the common threads. All in all, I think I’ve found a lovely home.”

That sense of contentment and belonging is at odds with the general mood of Bond’s songs on ‘Where Were You?’, which relate nostalgic tales of restlessness and regret. The album has a sentimental air of melancholy about it, each song’s reflective storyline playing out both in its lyrics and almost imperceptibly in the musical gestures between the lines. The real ingenuity in Bond’s songwriting is in the way he creates a mood, sets a scene, and then allows the stories to play out in his listeners’ imagination.

Musically, the album is centered around catchy guitar melodies and a warmly reverberant production style, which paired with Bond’s unadorned, passionate singing tone allow the lyrics to deliver their full impact. The uptempo tracks on the album, such as ’87 Broadcast’ and lead single ‘The Better Option’ gain energy from propulsive rhythms behind that lyrical and musical melodicism. Some of the slower, more pensive numbers, by contrast, tend to lose momentum, particularly mid-album track ‘Hellfire’, which, at nearly five minutes in length, stretches itself just a bit too thin.

Opening track ‘Everglades’ is the most immediate and captivating tracks on the album, with its lightly innocent guitar intro accompanying the foreboding first lyric “I came to town with nothing but a warning / everyone here hears everything”. Its lyrical narrative takes a dark turn into a dangerous tale of love, abuse and jealousy, asking “Do you think anyone would ask if he ended up missing?” before the final repeated fade-out “I could take him down into the Everglades…”

‘Calm in the Corner’ is one of the album’s more effective slow numbers, employing light percussion and ethereal backing vocals under its existential refrain: “there’s a calm in the corner, I don’t know what / but it’s staring straight at me, I can feel it in my guts”. It segues smoothly into ‘Seer’, a gentle examination of the potential risks involved with falling in love, and then into ‘Neighborhoods’, which wistfully observes the universal conflict between past and present.

The album title ‘Where Were You’ presumably refers to the initial poetic line in ‘For J.’, which is one of its most elusive and yet emotionally poignant tracks. ‘Lucknow to Birmingham’ is similarly obscure thematically, but its fuzzed out guitars give it a bit more traction leading into the gritty final track ‘We Were Just Kids’.

The overwhelming honesty and authenticity of Bond’s lyrics is certainly the most essential characteristic of ‘Where Were You’. While I might have liked to hear a bit more dynamic and emotional range in the instrumental arrangements, I was intrigued by Bond’s ability to create and convey stories that are by turns enticingly exotic and intimately relatable.

6.5/10

PJ Bond’s second full-length album ‘Where Were You?’ is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.

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