IN THE PONDS – The Last Stop Ranch

On their 2022 release ‘Polar Night’, instrumentalists In The Ponds crammed a variety of musical moods into a very short playing time. Ranging from spooky, almost prog rock inspired echo driven guitar (‘Lonesome George’) to an atmospheric, David Lynch inflected ambience (‘Someone’s Always Watching’), and even supplying a nod to the distorted blues of The Groundhogs (‘Haruki On The Sand’), it was the kind of EP that created a great musical CV.

A year on, the three pieces that made up the ‘Fever Canyon’ EP displayed just as much willingness to stretch post rock into strangely mellow environs. From the moment ‘The Lost City’ faded in with a wash of feedback/drone rock and bluesy lead guitar, the music felt like a natural continuation of the previous release. Shifting between fuzzy chords and clean notes, guitarist David Perez is able to create an entire soundscape, without resorting to the usual louder post rock tropes, and bassist Jennifer Gigantino’s sporadic notes add great textures. Although this might sound like a band gearing up for something bigger, that’s pretty much all the listener was given. During the rest of the material, the almost ambient element of the In The Ponds sound continued to sound strangely incomplete, yet oddly compelling – like a soundtrack for an imagined road movie crossing the vast deserts of Nevada.

As you might expect, this second release for ’23 offers three more slices of similarly ambient post rock/soundtrack inspired blues, taking the listener even deeper into an understated and introspective world of sound. ‘You Can Kill Me Anytime’ opens with a flurry of quietly played, very clean sounding guitar notes, whilst a sporadic bass adds occasional deep tones. Moving into an array of slightly dirtier sounding chords, the bluesier edge of David’s playing comes through on one of the duo’s rockier riffs to date, but even though this is arguably more direct sounding than anything on the previous EP, In The Ponds retain their strange and almost spooky vibe that makes the musical pieces come alive. Cranking the riff a little more, there are faint echoes of 90s alternative bands, albeit very briefly, before the track’s greatest moments present themselves. Dialling everything back for the final section, the guitar returns to clean notes, throwing out a very 60s melody whilst the bass busies itself with a really inviting sound. Jennifer’s playing is never intrusive; here, she just takes a very natural approach, almost setting an actual groove in place, but never quite getting there. After all, a proper desert rock groove would totally change the In The Ponds aesthetic, and this mellow, cinematic musical wandering is far more of their making than any Yawning Man tribute sound. The track might be slight, and the melody a little wavering in places, but it eventually becomes the perfect extension to the duo’s ambient side.

The shorter ‘Playing With Matches’ works a chopping riff around a playfully muted tone, whilst David overlays the basic rhythm with a crying guitar sharing a second riff with an almost eastern tone. Using this as a springboard for a few atonal sounds and off-kilter lead notes, it isn’t as accessible as other tracks, even though its more direct riff should make it an instant standout. With a few dirtier chords beefing up the riff along the way, there are flourishes of old alternative rock here once more, in addition to offering a bigger nod to post rock, but it isn’t a track that fits neatly into either camp. It mightn’t be as strong as the opener, or as timeless in feel as the earlier ‘Someone’s Always Watching’, but it has its own charm, and the very natural bass sound gives the semi-improvised feel more of a structure to weave around. Best of all is ‘Hide & Seek’ which re-introduces the clean, very late 60s sound that provided the heart of the best In The Ponds material previously. The marriage of an understated bass and jazz toned guitar instantly makes this the EP’s best tune, but a switch to a slightly harder sound and Perez exploring a pure blues lead creates something that almost plays like all of the Ponds’ best tunes rolled into one. A return to the 60s mood, driven by extra reverb for a very welcome Lynchian vibe, allows this sparse tune to feel complete, but there’s a surprise when its natural ending is missed and David bursts into another solo, with his guitar crying a little more. As always, it isn’t about anger; it isn’t about noise, or even flashiness. It’s about capturing a moment, and in the duo’s usual soundtrack inspired tradition, it’s a moment that feels incredibly natural.

Do you wish that bands like Orange Clocks would sometimes offer gentler and more accessible melodies? Maybe you enjoy the expansive, improvised world of Yawning Balch, and are looking for something similar, yet more scattershot? Or have time for instrumental sounds that take in a mellow post rock vibe, and yet never seem to fit easily into one genre? This is for you. It might veer towards the sketchy in places, but there’s plenty here that’s interesting if approached in the right mood and as part of a broad late night listening session.

August 2023