erasing clouds

Poi Dog Pondering, In Seed Comes Fruit (Premonition)

reviewed by dave heaton

During the 15 years since their first EP, Poi Dog Pondering have gone enough different musical directions to leave categorizers and marketers thoroughly confused. An eclectic folk/pop group from the start, PDP's scope has stretched even further, to take in all sorts of music (rock, funk, hip-hop, brassy jazz). Since 1995's fantastic Pomegranate album, the group has crafted an unique, organic sound rooted in R&B and dance music, with string arrangements adding an extra element of loveliness. They revel in the energy that comes from a crowd of people dancing the night away, yet are just as interested in using music to capturing the shimmering beauty of an ocean.

Their latest album In Seed Comes Fruit is both typical of their recent style of music and a refinement of it. The group's love for finding a solid groove through percussion and the occasional beats, its appreciation for the way a powerful singing voice can bowl you over and its aptitude at adding blissful piano and strings to amplify the beauty factor all merge together more cohesively than ever. In that way, In Seed Comes Fruit is the more unified Poi album yet, which might disappoint fans expecting every album to be a surprise. The group seems to have decided upon a sound after all these years; now they're working on refining it. And in doing so they seem to be working more as a group than ever.

With about a dozen members plus other collaborators making up the group, they've always seemed like a artistic collective. Yet lead singer/chief songwriter Frank Orrall has also always seemed like the ringleader behind it all, the architect. On In Seed Comes Fruit steps aside a bit in favor of true collaboration. Vocalists Carla Prather and Charlotte Wortham sing lead more often than he does here, and contribute lyrics too. Their increased presence at the front gives the group a vocal sound that's more R&B-ish, though in the classic soul sense, not like many of today's ultra-polished R&B stars. Yet that's the direction Poi's been going in for years now, which makes the changes more evolution than a major shift.

What's still at the foundation of PDP's music is a feeling of joyously losing yourself: in music, in life, in art. Which isn't to say they're blandly cheery about everything. Their music has always had grit to it that you might not expect. Their songs aren't just about celebrating life, they're about celebrating it in the face of all of life's pain and hurt. "Keep the Faith" is about pushing on even when life is hard, when everyone and everything you love is gone and life seems like an impossible struggle. On "Simple Song"-a dance song with real heart to it, not just rhythm-Orrall sings about letting music take away the pain of loss, the regrets that come with the passing of time. In Seed Comes Fruit, like Poi Dog Pondering's music in general, is beautiful and uplifting but also rooted in a realistic view of the world. They deal with pain and joy equally, without shame, which gives their music a deeper foundation than your average throwaway pop song.


Issue 14, August 2003 | next article

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