ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
Anti-war activist, author, and former professor at the University of California Berkely, Maxine Hong Kingston once said, “In a time of destruction, create something.”
Though creation came before the destruction for singer-songwriter Augustine Arthur Bondy, aka Scott Body, aka (and presently known as) A.A. Bondy, his comeback record Enderness is has taken on new life, serving as a therapeutic balm after his home was consumed in flames right after finishing his album. Standing above the carnage of what once was, Bondy’s reemergence is imbued with eerie context, which breathes poignant life into a record that would have felt weightless otherwise.
While it was made before the fire, there is something oddly cathartic about the themes and storylines at hand in Enderness, for it is eerily in tune with Bondy’s catastrophe. As an artist who expresses himself with a brutal image of Americana in heart, the enigmatic singer’s latest reflects the feeling of inevitable, hidden rot that surrounds us, while the sheen of something so artificial as the American dream pushes on, deceiving and swallowing those who are lured into its trap. As sweeping that may sound, Enderness is a personal record at the same time. In fact, it is so personal that you will like voyeur once you relinquish yourself to these intimate portraits of love and Bondy’s depressive musings about loneliness.
It’s been a long while since Bondy has released music—eight years in fact—and with the onus on him to fill listeners’ void for synth-tinged, sad boy alt-country, Enderness overflows our hearts with a mesmerizing experience that takes the cake as the most slyly addictive listen of 2019 so far. Eschewing the crackling embers of guitar that have defined his music up until this point, Bondy completely buys into the hypnotic bedroom-pop hybrid of folk that he merely hinted at in his last record, 2011’s Believers.
Now fully embracing his new synth-laced sound, Enderness witnesses Bondy tap into a sopping well that bears so much sadness than we initially felt with his other records—not by words alone, but by the many icy, ambient throbs of Bondy’s production. Many will ding this record for being too subdued, but the matter of fact is Bondy has grown as an artist since his days as Verbena. He’s evolved, more experimental, more in touch with what drives him, with the decaying America around him and of course, what pulls at his (and our) heartstrings. Enderness is a profound testament to his maturation.
Similar to what Alec Soth accomplished through his photographic documentation of middle America, Bondy takes an unvarnished look into the nation’s banal beauty and discouraging decay (not that it was great, to begin with), but with more distrust, disgust, and a bit more disguised humor. On ‘Fentanyl Freddy’ Bondy paints an image that unsettlingly reminded me of Harmony Korine’s Gummo, as poses himself as a desperate opioid addict to reflect the nation’s dire epidemic: “Fentanyl Freddy flipped another car/ heard his sister saying / be better if he died / and I'm a chicken killer / I'm a crush a piller / see me at the pawnshop/ with my neighbor's lawnmower…” It’s a peculiar cut, but easily the best on the entire album.
Wobbling with dissonance and sadness, ‘Killers 3’ attests to the sadistic tendency in human nature: “Murder/ is more entertaining/ than peace ever will be/ to a killer.” The twisted chaos and dystopian landscape where Enderness finds its home is enhanced by the inclusion of the slowcore-ish ‘#lost hills,’ which bleakly recounts the California forest fires that would soon rage over Bondy’s own home: “apocalypse / from / every highway / the places / that / we fled / as I / return / to / California / my / spirit / under / fed…” There’s a bittersweet sense of nostalgia brimming from “#Lost Hills” that cannot be described as anything other than ghostly considering the catastrophic events soon to follow.
Album opener ‘Diamond Skull’, through its yearning synths and hallow guitars, ties loneliness, greed, addiction, and even suicide into one package to aptly kick off this gloomy record: “Money so loud guru eyes/ I believe that I can fly/ with a belt around my neck/ where is my love?”
The track ‘Images of Love’ attempts to sift through the desolation of Enderness’ dystopian realm as Bondy croons, “sing into the fear/ may we break the bed/ we were dead before/ we’ll be dead again...” Amidst the well-established misery, Bondy furnishes the record with the slightest amount of hope, but hope nonetheless, through three absolutely gorgeous instrumentals.
Atmospheric and bursting with celestial joy that cannot be pinned down, the album’s first instrumental ‘The Tree with the Lights’ forces listeners to look up instead of down as a quiet voice in the backgrounds asks “Can you see?” ‘Pan Wise’ prompts listeners to do the same, but for a minute longer and through dreamier means. The album closer and title-track - appropriately named - is a fitting way to conclude an album where deterioration and depression arise from every crack and crevice. An Eno-esque ambient composition with samples of crashing waves (or thunder) looming close behind, Bondy conjures up a light at the end of the tunnel-type feeling, the exact sensation one gets when overlooking ocean waters during the pitch-black night time. It also serves as a reminder of Kingston’s incredibly wise words, “In a time of destruction, create something.”
THE 405 RATING: 8/10