The elusive Alabama songwriter returns after eight years with a slightly new sound but an unchanged knack for brilliant songwriting
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This is a gentle reminder that A.A. Bondy is a truly great songwriter. You may have forgotten, and it is not hard to see why. In a five-year window, Bondy released three studio albums, each one determined to better the last. Consequently 2011’s ‘Believers’ – Bondy’s third – remains one of that year’s best records, a striking collection of rich songs built with assurance. And that seemed to be the last we would ever hear from him.
In 2012, A.A. Bondy disappeared. He had finished touring ‘Believers’ and was seemingly fed up. With no official announcement or fanfare, Bondy decided to try something new. It is only with ‘Enderness’, Bondy’s first album in 8 years, that he has decided to share that he retired all those years ago. Confirming in a recent interview with Aquariam Drunkard, he opted instead to “doing drugs in a social way”. Then came a forest fire that tore through his house. You could not blame Bondy for leaving the music scene completely.
However the day before said forest fire, he was doing quite the opposite. A.A. Bondy had just finished work on ‘Enderness’ when the fire intervened. He escaped his house fire, but very little else did. Fortunately for him, ‘Enderness’ snuck out with him. The ten tracks summarise what had happened to the once-prolific songwriter, while highlighting who he has become in his time off. As a result, this sounds detached from the rest of his catalogue but a tremendous effort nonetheless.
‘Enderness’ embraces a new sound for Bondy. It is sonically ambitious; glitches and digital blurts emerge and evaporate with little commotion. Yet through the noise remains some of Bondy’s great songwriting credentials. ‘In the Wonder’ is a remarkable, patient number – harmonies on the chorus are as fragile as china, while the outro resembles something The National would be proud of. ‘I’ll Never Know’ is an open-ended cut, with Bondy adding very human emotion upon a wall of artificial sound. “I’ll never know, every shape you can take”, he resigns on the downtrodden chorus.
There is a lot of familiarity here. ‘Killers 3’ could blend into any of the aforementioned two songs and you would not notice. That’s not to say they are uninspired, however. Each track stands out, subtly mesmirising in its minute detail. ‘Killers 3’ is a prime example of A.A. (formerly Scott) Bondy’s humour: “Murder is more entertaining than peace ever will be to a killer”, he states at the beginning. What could be perceived as cynical, is merely plain truth to Bondy.
The sense of nonplussed shruggery towards society is omnipresent on album opener ‘Diamond Skull’. Not at risk of half-assing his disinterest with lyrics like “Someone famous takes a shit”, the song culminates with A.A. Bondy alternating “OMG”‘s with “Swastika”‘s. It is a visceral, highly entertaining reintroduction into his world. John Grant would salivate at lyrics like, “Too much brain, needs more ass”.
Make no mistake, Bondy has remained loyal to his folk roots. ‘#Lost Hills’ takes its time to unfurl, blissful guitar solos entangle themselves around verses as Bondy softly sings of the “Ocean blue”. ‘Pan Tran’ is a portal into chamber pop. It is one of three instrumentals that allow the record room to breathe. They may be sweet and acute, if slightly needless. While they plump up the tracklisting a little, the album would not be ruined without these cuts.
After all these years, A.A. Bondy’s ability to create hypnotising stories is very strong. The first single off the record, it is dark and brooding. “I’m a chicken killer, I’m a crush-a-piller”, Bondy prompts over a James Blake-esque instrumental. At over four-minutes, it is one of the longer tracks on the record. Consequently it remains the most prominent song – lingering long after it fades out.
There are very few weak moments on the ‘Enderness’, with its consistent tone and extremely likeable charisma. ‘Images of Love’ is a clear stand-out, led by a funky bass and present vocal performance. While the record may not demand replayability, you will want to come back to this often. It is unassuming yet unwanting. A.A. Bondy’s return is not some grand spectacle, instead a suited intimate affair. You get the impression he would not want it any other way.
‘Enderness’ by A.A. Bondy is out now via Fat Possum Records