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A.A. Bondy – Enderness

The now 47-year-old Auguste Arthur Bondy, also known by his stage name A.A. Bondy or simply Scott Bondy, is slated to release his fourth record and first in eight years. The Birmingham, Alabama area native is known for his 2007 debut solo album American Hearts, When The Devil’s Loose (2009), and his most recent – though still long since passed Believers (2011). After eight years, what does Bondy have in store? Enderness is a brooding but rather brief record defined by its dark, cold storytelling and winding instrumentals.

The first track is “Diamond Skull”, a melancholy and brooding song that lacks nothing in force. Instrumentally, while the song possesses a distinct indie sound, mostly owing to the not-too-subtle submersed sound of the guitar tone, as well as the delivery and treatment of the vocals, there is a definite folk rhythm and compositional quality to the piece.

“Killers 3” has an absolutely relentless keys section, an airy organ with some tremolo effect that rests underneath all other sonic elements and greatly enhances the resonance of the song. Around the 2:40 mark there is a veritable organ solo, with the keys climbing up to a higher register an intensifying effect. The lyrical content is compelling – “murder is more entertaining than peace ever will be to a killer”; killers who, Bondy cynically surmises, are “everywhere [he goes]”. As sensitive as such ideas are, especially when delivered through an artistic medium, Bondy has the nonchalant neutrality in delivery of Father John Misty. In a recent press release regarding Enderness, Bondy intimated, “I was getting drunk and watching Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire and there’s this character Homer who asks: ‘What is it about peace that makes its story so hard to tell?’ ‘Killers 3’ is my answer to that question.” Whatever his inspiration may be and whatever he intended to add to the conversation, “Killers 3” is probably the best song on the record.

The third track is “In The Wonder”, a song with a distinctly dystopian feel. While slow and solemn synths back a simple percussive beat, Bondy sings “see the city there, and the water rise, have another Jack, take another ride”. He suggests “we’ll drink all night, we’ll move and sing in the wonder”, leading into the refrain “in the wonder”. The repetition of the phrase, together with the somnambulant vibe of the instrumentation, makes for a sleepy mantra. Most appropriately, this song is followed by the largely instrumental short track “The Tree With The Lights”. Comprised of similarly uneasy synths and ambient, whispering vocal and percussion parts, this song adds to the general melancholy of the record.

“Images Of Love” is an aptly titled tune insofar as it focuses on the scenes of a loving relationship. “Carry it high, carry it low,” Bondy says, “through all the images of love”. It’s a slow-paced song but is particularly catchy. The bassline drives the song, and is filled out by a steady beat. At this point, the general character of Enderness seems discerned – a stripped-down, bare-bones sort of synth folk. Perhaps that is why the sixth track, “I’ll Never Know”, almost perfectly embodies that profile, serving to fortify the gesture of the album. The drum beat sounds top-heavy to the point of sounding like a trash can being hit. “I’ll never know every shape you can take” sings Bondy over synth organ tones of forlorn suggestion.

Interestingly enough, just as quintessentially Enderness as “I’ll Never Know” happens to be, Bondy throws listeners something rather different next in the instrumental track “Pan Tran”. The song features an organ of remarkable unique and fantastic tone, rolling majestically in a simple and cyclical progression. For all its abject straightforwardness, “Pan Tran” is among the most rewarding bits of the album.

Latest single “Fentanyl Freddy” has a peculiar detuned piano, pulsing with reverb, which suffices for the primary draw of the song. Aside from its rather trippy effect, the song is not that compelling, as it is a vignette about the deadbeat referenced in the title, painted in brief descriptions like “Fentanyl Freddy flipped another car, heard his sister sayin’ be better if he died”. Still for as little else as it has to offer, it supports the record well and is therefore a worthwhile addition. The ragtime-reminiscent piano toward the close of the song is a nice touch.

The deadpan “Fentanyl Freddy” is succeeded by “#Lost Hills”, featuring what is perhaps the most interesting guitar work present on the record. The watery rhythm section is fronted with some lazy picking with slightly brighter tones, rendering an almost glimmering effect. The song fits right in with the gist of the album, with once again dystopian images and sentiments like “I pray my way to hell” and “apocalypse from ever highway”. Slow and winding, “#Lost Hills” fizzles out at 3:24.

Enderness is completed with its title track, another synth-heavy number with a stormy atmosphere. “Enderness” is an instrumental track that yet more steadily winds down the record.

Altogether, Enderness feels longer than it is because of its slow pace, which informs its melancholy nature and imbues melodramatic effect. Some songs seems premature in closure – “#Lost Hills” comes to mind – as they possess neither compositional variation nor remotely exhaustive lyricism, but while this may be the case they more than adequately satisfy the record’s apparent need for brevity and vignette imagery. Even though the trajectory of the album is a little flat, as it all sounds rather like a continuation of the same general theme via the same general sonic and compositional model, by that very nature it does achieve much cohesion and feels quite natural. All said, it’s a provocative record from a provocative songwriter – no frills, no sparkles, just a simple folk/alternative take on salt-of-the-earth ruminations.

Enderness is released Friday 10th May via Fat Possum Records