A.A. Bondy – Believers Review

A.A. Bondy returns with a new Alternative Folk offering. As you might expect, this one is moody and has a lot of space. Let’s see if it works though.

A.A. Bondy – Believers (2011) – 7.4 / 10.0

Release Date: Sept. 13, 2011
Running Time: 40:51
Label: Fat Possum
Genre: Alternative Folk, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Drug of Choice: Valium, Wine, Prozac
Key Tracks:
“The Heart Is Willing”
“Rte. 20/Believers”

A.A. Bondy is a guy that I have a hard time pinning down. Most who write about him use words like ‘Americana’ or ‘Roots’, but I can’t exactly square that peg. This isn’t a guy you can expect to see at Bluegrass or Folk festival. His music is full of effects and space, like a Shoegaze record. But that is not to say that he’s nearly as noisy as Ride or psychedelic as Galaxie 500. About the only way I can contextualize this guy is to imagine an early Tom Waits or Randy Newman record with a Jesus and Mary Chain paradigm. He’s a slow, old-style balladeer that uses these ambient effects to distance the music off. Typically, this is the type of thing that I would turn my nose up at. To a certain extent, I still do. I don’t understand what Bondy thinks the excess space is doing, because he shows evidence here that he knows well how to move songs forward. Nevertheless, I’m buying this record. The songs are just too good.

The album cover shows a man walking down a lonely road at night, streetlights flaring into the camera. That is about as good of a summary as I’ve seen from a cover. This is a lonely driving album, with beats moving at a slow, deliberate and repeated pace while the narrator escapes into his own head. Noise effects come and go in the distance like those flaring lights. Most importantly, just like a lonely road journey, it ends no differently than it began. There is one point-of-view, one mood, and no interlopers. Believers is as much of a concept record as I’ve heard in quite some time.

The first track on Believers is “The Heart Is Willing”. This is a heroine-dipped arrowhead that concisely summarizes the mood of the record without tying Bondy down to a particular style or genre. The song reminds me of an early BRMC track, but with less energy and a less predictable structure. Much of the rest of the first half of the album is a bit too slow moving and spacey for my taste. The tracks listlessly move from one to another without much dynamism or any hook to speak of. That is until “Surfer King”. The dreamy love song is nothing short of beautiful and the guitar riff feels like it was taken straight from Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind, regretful and elegant. “Highway/Fevers” is a dead-of-winter driving song with a wonderful chorus. The guitar once again plays a wonderful role against Bondy’s voice and offers a downright beautiful mid-song breakdown.

I don’t think there is a song on the record stronger than “Drmz”, however. Here, Bondy comes the closest to traditional song structure and it works in his favor. This track (once again centering on love and regret) wouldn’t take much to fit perfectly at the end of a piano man’s long bar set. Late album track “Rte. 28/Believers” will probably garner Bondy a few more dreaded Ryan Adams comparisons, but this is plainly Bondy’s ground and he knows how to work it. Once you reach the chorus, there is no question who wrote this song.

On Bondy’s third record, Believers, he casts a long dreamy shadow over the end of our summer, warning of the winter to come. This is a record that holds together well and improves with repeated listens. He may not have released the best record this week, but this is the best work of his young career and his increasing maturity is appreciated. If we could just get this guy on some caffeine, there could be a monster of an album in his future.

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About Chris Bell

Chris Bell was born in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO in 1981. His path toward a life enjoying music began at ten, when he first heard Queen. Chris attended Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, where he studied English and Communication Arts. While there, Chris spent three years working as an on-air disc jockey for 88.7 KTRM Radio. Chris was the host/creator of the weekly ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ show and a frequent guest on the station’s weekend talk format, serving as a guest commentator on music and politics. It was during this time that Chris was first published by the National Communication Association. His work, ‘Dylan and the New Left: How Political Song Changed American Political Rhetoric’ was presented at the 2002 NCA National Convention in New Orleans. Chris was the only undergraduate to present research on his panel, ‘Rhetorical Strategies in Music’. After college, Chris moved back to Kansas City and started his own talent management company, Poker Face Productions. He continued to manage that company until moving to Brooklyn, NY to pursue a business opportunity in 2008. While there, Chris started as a weekly column writer and album reviewer for 411music.com. Now back in the Midwest, Chris is hoping to bring what he learned about music media in New York to his hometown and support an already vibrant arts culture in Kansas City. His areas of concentration include American Roots, Glam Rock, Punk, Psychedelia, Chamber Pop, American Underground, and Garage Rock.

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