Matt Pond PA may have stayed too long in the woods. Their earthy landscape of harvest moons and shadowy creeks harboring folk-goth songs of sorrow and lust has sustained them through nine albums. Their newest, The Dark Leaves doesn't depart from the cello driven forested parlor they are identified with or singer, lyricist Matt Pond's woeful meanderings in which he often struck a gentle nerve of alienation and heartache. "The Hollows" from the Measure album is exciting and mournful, but in The Dark Leaves, the cloying lyrics, ("how it kills me, oh love kills me"), and same old sound, like chamber music led by a pop star, finally sounds only dreary.
Given the band's narrow scope the songs here are actually quite diverse. "Remains" features a mesmerizing electric keyboard against a marching gospel ballad. "Winter Fawn" sounds like Roger Waters' "Grandchester Meadows" as a wind-up squeaky toy, and "Specks" has a go-tell-it-on-the-mountain fiddle with a Springsteen echoed yelp. But the stuff is getting maddeningly tiresome due mostly to Pond's increasingly metaphoric lyrics set mostly against a psychedelic creek in which we waded, swam, and frolicked. Now we want to get the hell out of these woods. New ground needed to be unearthed and we don't even go deeper into the hollow as the album flickers with tempting invite but extinguishes itself in a monotonous vibe.
The album does pass the mental hum test as musical passages gently breeze through my mind hours after listening. Still there's no bite, no stinging refrain, too much salt in the wound and not enough tongue. Even the title, The Dark Leaves, the dark departs, like there's got to be a morning after, leaves the most unimaginative of thoughts. I liked them so much more when I thought they were a place, and not a person in Pennsylvania.