When we first met A.A. Bondy in 2009, he was a dexterous guitar player with more than a few sad songs up his sleeve. His solo breakthrough, When the Devil’s Loose, was filled with intricately fingerpicked songs about hopelessness filtered through resigned, sandpaper-like vocals. In his most recent incarnation, though, Bondy has all but abandoned his whiskey-soaked folk shtick. On last year’s Believers, he dished out 10 dynamically orchestrated and undeniably haunting new tracks. Gone are the stripped-down acoustic guitars and the lyrics that cut to the bone. In their place stand fuzzy washes of electric guitar, echoing organs, and subtly driving drum work, not to mention some of Bondy’s most understated lyrical work to date.
“I wanted things to feel a certain way and basically every thing is some kind of impressionism. Even with the words and all that stuff,” Bondy told music blog Aquarium Drunkard last year. “I was just trying to impart this whole thing where you can feel a stack of given emotions at any time. Where before, the songs would be all very simplistic and pointed in one, almost naive, direction. Like, ‘this is what sadness is like,’ or ‘this is what patriotism is’ or some shit like that. But I realized after playing all those songs, that rarely does one emotion overtake everything.”
As such, Believers works a lot like a good book or film: You discover something new with every listen. “Down in the Fire (Lost at Sea)” draws on Bondy’s nuanced delivery style (think Ryan Adams meets Cat Power) and builds from a simple drum-and-guitar number to a distortion-filled ballad about finding home. Later, “Drmz” crawls along with the help of a steady floor tom and a whirling slide guitar, while Bondy mumbles lines about a “haunted ocean song” and “hours tracing skin.” For a songwriter who could easily rest on his voice, Believers is a remarkably ambitious effort, and one that pays off big time. A.A. Bondy plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) this Thursday, August 30, at 9:30 p.m. with openers ESP. Call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for tickets.