Friday, September 10th, 2021

Saint Etienne – Pond House

Whatever you do, don’t say “she’s on the phone”…


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[6.46]

Ian Mathers: Excellent sample (White Lilies Island is underrated), and a top notch use of it — although it’s left relatively intact, something about the backing and the way the track keeps going over it and over it winds up feeling like it’s shimmering in the heat haze of nostalgia, becoming pliable in the distortions of memory. 
[8]

Jeffrey Brister: “Tasteful and restrained” are the words coming to mind, and that’s not really a good thing. A song that plods along with the same melodic and rhythmic figures goes well as bridging filler in a DJ set, but in any other context it just sits there, inert, waiting, signaling that something has ended and something else will begin soon. It’s a loading screen, a checkpoint, menu music, etc — all stuff to note a calm, impermanent space. But there’s nothing more to it than that.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: “Pond House” shows that repetitiveness isn’t necessarily a consequence of repeating something, because while we have the main melody again and again, it doesn’t feel tiring at all — partly because the build-up is so detailed, but also because that vocal melody is so intriguing. As someone who will probably never choose to listen to this kind of music, I would be very pleased if I’m somewhere and this song starts playing. 
[6]

Jessica Doyle: Lately I’ve been spending more than a reasonable share of time working with various lo-fi streams on in the background. Like most multitasking attempts, this is a cheat that makes me look better than I actually am — in this case, that I’ve been listening to music that has actually drifted by without my noticing (though I did, fortunately, pay enough attention to this playlist to discover Jean Tassy). So I’m grateful that “Pond House” is less a drift-by-your-head song than it looks at first glance. It’s not lo-fi, for one thing, but it’s also not relaxed, or relaxing. I want to read a spikiness into it, a potential skepticism that could be directed towards the comfort of nostalgia. I don’t want to take anything away from the YouTube commenter who wrote, “I miss the old Saint Etienne. The big-bag-of-samples Saint Etienne. The in-love-with-London Saint Etienne. The C86ers-on-pills Saint Etienne,” but I do think there’s room here for those who want to mutter about the London of Cool Britannia not being all it was cracked up to be even at the time. (And I say that as someone who will never not be in love with “He’s on the Phone.”) It’s worth breaking my usual habit and forcing myself to pay attention.
[7]

William John: A treacly “Beauty on the Fire” remix in a style that sits somewhere between Télépopmusik and Groove Armada, this leans into Saint Etienne’s idiosyncrasies almost so far as to seem predictable.
[5]

Austin Nguyen: Turns “Beauty on the Fire” into a rich, sprawling mirage, synths evaporating into the churning thicket of air, each syllable smudged over with the mist of memory. Not exactly “atmospheric” (an understatement at best), but what I imagine it’d sound like in the glistening time-space-folding-into-itself bubble of Penguin Highway.
[7]

Alfred Soto: The decelerated drum machine is a callback to “Calico,” and the rest of this aural reflecting pool glimmers, a tribute to how pretty Saint Etienne can make found sounds. Those of us who want songs as tasty as Words and Music and Home Counties‘, though, may tap our feet, impatiently. 
[5]

Nortey Dowuona: The plucked piano chords barely whir underneath the heavy drums as Natalie Imbruglia’s voice is smushed and erased, then hidden as a limp synth line wills itself to the top of a circling bass loop. Bob and Pete have created a flushed, warm sound with the spiraling synth pads and off-kilter synth riffs, but there is no animating presence to enliven it, to make it anything more than a churning machine, at least without Sarah. And the Natalia clip can barely make the song move, feeling more like a bored snipe at the crumbling synth and snare work. 
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The Natalie Imbruglia nostalgia did not register to me until I started reading the YouTube comments, but it doesn’t even matter — regardless of experience with the sample or with this group’s work I’m still moved by this. It’s the kind of massive marble slab of sophisticated electronic music that I prefer at an eight-minute length rather than four, but I’ll appreciate the grandness of this at any speed.
[7]

John Pinto: Pulses ahead like a latent and half-right memory of the Natalie Imbruglia track it flips. It reminds me, bizarrely, of a different 2002 curio: Gus Van Zant’s Gerry, a film where one minor divergence from the path early on leads to monotonous catastrophe. You missed a turnoff somewhere long ago, but remain convinced that just up ahead, for sure, will be the way back. 
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: Is that Southampton or the south of France? Claude Puel himself couldn’t tell you. British torpor blends seamlessly into Continental languor like they were one and the same, and in the process reveal that they are. A Red Funnel sunset is the same as a cruise ship’s; equally recurrent. Lustrous and refined, “Pond House” encapsulates that flow.
[7]

Leah Isobel: When I was 18, I thought I was way more tasteful and cool than I was, and I listened to a lot of cool, tasteful pop. “Pond House” is like a refraction of those songs, which I now realize were certainly in Saint Etienne’s lineage (particularly “Peanut Butter“). In turn, it feels like a gestural memory of a moment of my life. It’s a funny comparison, given that the repetitive and abstract lyrics point to memory and feeling, or the memory of feeling — the line “here it comes again” floats in and out, slipping off-time, pulling the song backwards, glazed by burbling synth. The bass organ is carnivalesque, but the layers over it are so sweet and vague that its goofy specificity becomes an asset. Being profoundly goofy, I would’ve loved this at 18.
[6]

Mark Sinker: Bob I’ve known for more than 35 years: we both wrote for NME in the 80s and I’ve acted as editorial consultant on his two histories of pop (the second is due next year). Pete is the beloved son-in-law of an old and close friend of my sister’s. By all means assume that my response to this pleasing slice of ambient dance is shaped mainly by these professional and social ties — because of course I like it.
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