By Jonah Cashel, Contributor
[Topshelf Records; 2021]
Key tracks: “Hit Reset”, “Beat Up Shoes”, “Water Cycle”
After an eight-year hiatus, A Great Big Pile of Leaves makes a worthy return with their third album Pono. Equal parts past adolescence-laden lyrics and proof of musical growth, the album is a perfect addition to the band’s already strong discography and extends its reach far past their Brooklyn-emo roots. While their other releases are fun to listen to, if not a little naïve, Pono displays the group’s maturity while reminiscing on the same subject they’ve always catered to; the wistful feeling of youth.
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The album came at the perfect moment, just in time for the nostalgia offered up by the season of change. Anyone across the globe right now can relate to the societal and (more importantly) personal change brought on by this past year, and AGBPOL doesn’t miss a beat. They captured that feeling in 10 beautifully simple songs.
The first song on the album, “Yesterday’s Clothes”, kicks it off perfectly with a tune dedicated to fleeting summer bliss. The fast-paced drum beat and joyful guitar riffs take the listener back to memories of warmth and invincibility, which blends perfectly with lyrics detailing late-night parties on the beach.
It is obvious from the first track that this record champions rhythm and instrumentals over all else, leaving the lyrics to do the work of accenting the intended feeling of each song. The words are relatable and sweet, but also vague and repetitive; the album’s focus is not lyrical depth. However, this does not take away from the quality of the album as a whole. If anything, it again shows growth in the band’s approach, leaving more room for the music to breathe and conjure emotion in its own right while the lyrics take a comfortable back seat. This is evident if you take a look at their last album, You’re Always on My Mind, which is a little wordier and a little less focused on instrumentation. It feels more like punk than soft indie.
The song that stands out most is the third track, “Beat Up Shoes”. The song’s infectious melody was on replay in my head for weeks after the first listen, and it is definitely in my top 5 songs this year. The refrain of “Spending all the night / Head out the window” fills you with youthful freedom that’s easily familiar to anyone who has spent a night cruising around town or skating with friends. It sets up the vibe of the album perfectly and reiterates that this is the ideal soundtrack to Autumn on campus.
Other notable songs include “Kitchen Concert” and “Water Cycle”, both of which slow down the last half of the album to provide an introspective look at relationships during times of transition in one’s life. “Kitchen Concert” marks this halfway point and eases the listener into leisurely and unusual math-rock-esque time signatures and an emotional rhythm that steps away from the band’s usual demeanor. Once settled into this, “Water Cycle” peaks the back half with a hopeful take on young romance that feels like the warm sun on a cold day.
This album may only feature a handful of songs you’ll want to add to your daily playlist, but as a whole, it acts as a safe vessel to contain yourself and that scary feeling of change – it’s one that you can always come back to. Before the leaves finish falling from the trees, I recommend finding the time to take a long walk, pop your headphones in and experience this album from start to finish – it might just ease those growing pains you’ve been feeling.