Almost achingly beautiful in a muted and weary kind of way, “Surfer King” finds A. A. Bondy exploring the same sort of atmospheric singer/songwriter sound as he was the last time he was here, in 2009, for the brilliant “When the Devil’s Loose.” No reason to mess with a good thing.
“Surfer King” sways and hesitates; it seems already to sit in your memory, blurred by reverb and bending under the quaver of a pedal steel played for its own sake, rather than to align with the cliched notion of what a pedal steel should sound like. And can I stop for a moment to register the minor but persistent pet peeve of how music bloggers so often hear a pedal steel and call the song country-ish or country-flavored or some such thing? This song has nothing to do with country music (not that there’s anything wrong with that, either). It’s got a pedal steel. But I digress. Bondy in any case seems to have found his sweet spot, having gone from lead singer in a grunge band to a stripped down, early-Dylan-esque troubadour before settling into this pensive, purposeful setting featuring a few well-placed instruments and his reflective baritone. This song is so sturdy, its melody so delicate and true, that the chorus slays us while focusing almost exclusively on two notes, one whole step apart.
“Surfer King” is from Believers, Bondy’s third album as a solo artist, released this month on Fat Possum Records. Bondy was born in Alabama and works from upstate New York. For the excessively curious, A. A. stands for Auguste Arthur.