J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Now Departing

A. A. Bondy
American Hearts
(Superphonic ; 2007)

Religion and 'conservative' politics go hand-in-hand in our stereotyped America. Our ideas about this, as with a lot of things, stem from who is the loudest. When talk shows consistently go to people like Pat Robertson for views from the 'religious' side of America, it tends to skew the larger perspective of religion's place in politics. But there is a large section of religiously minded people whose faith leads them in a different direction, and while it's hard at times to figure out where exactly A. A. Bondy falls on that religion spectrum, his subversive American Hearts stakes out a subtle, but decisive location to the left of the current political divide. The results are one of the best albums of 2007 and of Bondy's career.

A. A. Bondy (or Scott Bondy as he's been more commonly known) has been crafting dirty, bluesy rock and roll with his outfit Verbena since 1997. And religious themes have run through the Alabama trio's work since their earliest releases, but American Hearts delves into it with a depth that had only been hinted at before. Opening with the melancholic "How Will You Meet Your End" (with its opening, potentially Waits-ian nod of "I'm gonna keep that diamond in my mind"), the album sets its tone early and is relentless in its low-key, plaintive approach. "And hell upon the breeze / Six riders ride" Bondy sings, recalling the titular six white horses of the Verbena song from the ...are the Alabama Boys Choir EP. When he repeats the line later, the riders have disappeared only to be replaced by the line "no God in sight." Hope is not established early on.

The album steers its way through a gorgeous rumination on a world that inhabits a netherland between Tom Waits' universe of beautiful, tragic freaks and losers and the current state of bitter affairs and war. "Black Rain, Black Rain" and "Rapture (Sweet Rapture)" both develop the religious themes of the record further and it soon becomes obvious that something larger looms behind the outer structure of rustic theological exploration. "And love, it don't die, it just goes..all around the world / like a ghost on a breeze / in a land of elegies," from "Black Rain..", places us in the context of a world where love is mostly spent on the lost, the gone, the departed.

But I did mention politics earlier, and it's the title track that lets the subtlety fall away and reveals its meaning: "And if your God makes war / then he's no God I know / 'cause Christ wouldn't send boys to die." It's the tasteful placement of these statements - infrequent, placed poignantly amongst the metaphor and symbolism - that gives them their punch. "Witness Blues" aims its analysis at the everyday person with its line: "and once there was a time for easy silence / but now the jury waits for you." Bondy's lyrics are able to carry the casual heaviness of some of his obvious folk ancestors - the lyric that seems tossed off and fragile, yet unmistakable in its righteousness.

The religious politics of the album don't dominate the entire work - radiant ballads like "Lovers' Waltz" and "There's a Reason" provide buoys of soft light in the midsts of the darkness. At just over 40 minutes, the album doesn't feel too long or oppressive in its tone. It's just the right balance of terror and twilight. Bondy's examination of the concepts of faith as it is preached and faith as it is practiced is a remarkably beautiful vignette of life in 2007, regardless of your own beliefs and politics.

Rating: A(udiophilic) / E(xcellent)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Decide For Yourself:

A. A. Bondy - How Will You Meet Your End

A. A. Bondy - There's a Reason

A. A. Bondy - Vice Rag

Download this album from EMusic.

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  • At 4:11 PM, October 15, 2007, Blogger S. said…

    The review's as good as the album (or at least what I've heard from the album). I know I already told you that, but just sayin'.


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