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Pondhawks: The Pondhawks Have Landed

Reviewed By: Lisa Torem
Label: Riverpool Records
Format: CD

This band that should be called a band on the rise has been frequently compared to a certain band that penned 'Band on the Run'. In 2007, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist Mario Novelli, a dashing McCartney look-alike; Jorie Gracen, singer, guitarist, keyboardist and iconic rock photographer ('I Saw Him Standing There') and Roger Burden, Michael Gillespie, Gary Diamond and John Rivera, who provide voracious rhythm, formed the Pondhawks.

Heavily influenced by the Fab Four, Clapton, Hendrix and the miraculous range of Roy Orbison, the band has infused indie pop with sophisticated, bright tonalities, shimmering harmonies and themes that touch on frothy romance and fantasy. That said, their live performance has usually garnered surprises; such as when they were joined by the Harrison Street Ukulele Players who balanced out their grand slam signature, ‘Dragonfly.’

Their outstanding oeuvre encompasses levity, handclaps and 'Sergeant Pepper'-esque kitsch. A video from their debut album, 'The Pondhawks Have Landed', two and a half years in the making, was created by Randy Reisen and shows blonde Gracen brandishing the twist while the charismatic Novelli flashes an intoxicating smile towards an imaginary audience.

Opening track 'Midnight Howl' reveals, "Photographs of days gone by/never seem to ease the pain," and waxes about "Something in the air tonight/looking for a late night prowl." This immediately enthralling track trembles boldly along with a cliff-hanging bass line.

‘Dragonfly’ also has an infectious walking bass and the existential thought: “Why am I always out when I should be walking in?” ‘On the Phone with Thillerie’ features irresistible utterances of heartfelt mandolin and ‘Your Mind is Hard to Find’ drips with 'Sergeant Pepper' harmonies and poker-faced irony. Novelli lends wistful wanings.

The wordplay on ‘Weather Girl’; from “herky, jerky, radar swirl,” to “hot and humid nights have turned to snow” are not only joyous tongue twisters, but perfectly matched to the cobblestone melodies. Snips of electronica, poppy handclaps and a ‘Day Tripper’ confidence even out the score.

‘Sweet Dreams in the Rain’ find the strong songwriting partnership of Gracen/Novelli navigating the seismic movements of the alluring melodies; it’s beguiling when Novelli defines romance as, “like sparkling champagne in the rain.”

The frank ‘Cliff Note’ has some stately orchestral touches and working class horse-sense; “Even though I watch my step. I walk in your shoes,” is how that story goes.

Novelli, in ‘Fire Eyes’, proves he’s not merely a multi-instrumentalist. He possesses a vocal quality that shadows a certain Sir, but relies vigorously on its own self-assured musicianship. The song whiplashes amongst brazen textures.

‘Stranded’ is layered thick, like an experienced artisan’s paintbrush, with wondrous hue. Intoxicating wind chimes and billowy harmonies shore up the backdrop.

‘When Autumn Comes to Town’ is a more straight-laced ballad which still maintains some luscious harmonies, surmising, “even mighty oaks break.” ‘Time Flies’ is a Calypso teaser and is encapsulated by Novelli’s breezy tone and instrumentals that surrender to 'Gunsmoke' and do wop. ‘Crying Hyena’ has already garnered major media attention. It’s smart, saucy and brilliantly memorable.

The Pondhawks have a contemporary pop sound that merges happily with an unforgettable past. Dance to it, sing to it and revel in it. It’s pop on the rocks that requires no chaser.

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