A triumph of restraint and simple songwriting talent.
James Skinner 2009-11-17
Not one to rush things, Auguste Arthur Bondy spent the best part of a decade fronting indie-rock group Verbena before embarking on a solo career, and readily admits he “didn’t really know” what he was doing with the band. Released earlier this year in America, When the Devil’s Loose follows and builds on the sound of 2007’s sparse American Hearts. Conceived in snowy upstate New York and completed in Mississippi’s Water Valley, it’s the fecund surrounds of the latter that infuse the album: a gentle eulogy to the southern states where Bondy was raised.
Like The Felice Brothers (a clan he counts as his brothers-in-law), Bondy taps into a rich vein of Americana with rare skill and conviction. Ian Felice and Greg Farley of that band both contribute here, as do Macey Taylor of Conor Oberst’s Mystic Valley troupe and Nick Kinsey of Elvis Perkins in Dearland. It goes without saying that fans of the aforementioned will find much to love in this record, Bondy sharing his contemporaries’ dusty, widescreen influences while sprinkling his own brand of Southern Gothic throughout.
The clearest example of this is Oh the Vampyre, a stark lament that serves as his own contribution to the genre. “I could drink the world and never get my fill,” he sings, his voice dry and weary yet commendably undefeated. Elsewhere, I Can See the Pines Are Dancing makes for a rousing ode to resilience and False River surges with sweaty, claustrophobic intent. On the Moon is a gorgeous, unaffected ballad, bowing out with a minute of twinkling noise that segues into The Mercy Wheel, a rich full-band strum of the kind Bondy and his players repeatedly nail here.
When the Devil’s Loose is not a grand or showy album, and takes a few listens to ease itself into your consciousness. Once nestled there it offers abundant reward; though not the kind to wind up high in the forthcoming end-of-year lists, its depth and quality ensure it will comfortably outlive many that do. A triumph of restraint and simple songwriting talent.