Break down an A.A. Bondy song, and the parts seem unremarkable: some simple guitar chords, an occasional harmonica break, a few carefully chosen words that don’t fully cohere into literal meanings, and stark vocals that sound emotionally overpowered into numbness. But put those parts back together, and another, less-tangible element emerges—a mix of intensity and weariness that makes Bondy’s music feel like 3 a.m. in a dark room illuminated by a single light bulb swinging softly at its center. Bondy’s latest album, Believers, captures that middle-of-the-night restlessness just as powerfully as his first two releases, and the record’s illusory beauty is equally captivating.
After alternating between folkie solo performances and songs with spare, bluesy accompaniment from backing musicians on 2007’s American Hearts and 2009’s When The Devil’s Loose, Bondy has made his most band-oriented record yet with Believers, pretty much replicating the spooky sound of his live shows. But Believers is hardly his most “rocking” album; aside from the hypnotically hard-charging opener, “The Heart Is Willing,” Bondy is more contemplative than ever, stripping the appropriately skeletal “Skull & Bones” down to a lonely guitar line and a faint rhythmic pulse. Bondy makes every sound count on Believers; on the alluring “DRMZ,” which recalls the languid eroticism of Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” a spectral steel guitar arrives on the chorus like a memory of a lost love. A record that lives in that elusive space between sleep and awakening, Believers makes insomnia sexy.