It’s been eight years since Auguste Arthur Bondy’s last album, the alt-folk infused, TV soundtrack-friendly Believers. Those eight years sound like they’ve taken their toll. Enderness (out now on Fat Possum) sees him abandon traditional instruments for synthesisers and drum machines, whilst maintaining, even honing his connection with the great American songbook. Always an artist with a reputation to tend towards the minimal, here he’s crafted an album of crystalline fragility and beauty out of some grim subject matter.
Despite its limited and sometimes colourless palette, it’s an LP that takes unexpected twists. The brittle ‘In the Wonder’ pulses into life once it hits the chorus, and ‘Images of Love’ mooches from the erotic to the spiritual, before realising that just maybe it can get away with both. Opening track ‘Diamond Skull’ touches on white supremacy, child murder, and text speak – “Cinderella’s Adderall / Namaste, we will fall / Touch me, baby, don’t touch me / Funeral sex”. If this is poetry, it’s imbued with a chilling, listlessness that finds its fullest expression in ‘Fentanyl Freddie’, a blank, unsentimental glance at America’s opioid habit. At its halfway point the song’s poetry dies on us, outlived by a piano, nostalgic for the days when it wasn’t always just-out-of-tune, echoing into its own uncertain, repetitive sorrow.
The quiet devastation of ‘Fentanyl Freddie’ leads to ‘Pan Tran’, one of the LP’s trio of beautifully executed instrumentals. Shades of Angelo Badalamenti warm themselves in its glacier-like progress. It’s an authentic slice of minimalism, a simple phrase folding over and over, anchored to an ominous, barely audible counterpoint. ‘Enderness’ itself, the last track here, is fully ambient – nothing but a couple of dreamy chords, which progress towards the distant sound of waves crashing on the shore like deep, somnambulant breathing.
As with Low’s superlative Double Negative, these experiments feel earned by the oblique, apocalyptic journey of the songs they slip around, and they’re likely to get to you even if you don’t usually go for this kind of stuff. There’s a clarity of thought to the recording and production that gives everything a sense of scale, of vast size even within its own introversion, of the spaciousness of landscape or a mind. That limpidity extends to the vocals and the way he captures the thin, yearning resignation of his own voice.
The day after he finished recording Enderness, Bondy’s house burned down in a wildfire. Not a prolific user of social media, Bondy recently tweeted a photo of himself #TBT striking a heroic pose in the ashes that used to be his home. There used to be darkness on the edge of town, now there’s something out there burning. Enderness is an uncomfortable listen, embodying a world numb to its trauma – dissociated and distracted, even as it picks at fresh wounds. A troubling and clear-sighted elegy to a fading, intoxicated world.
Enderness is out now on Fat Possum.