Auguste Arthur Bondy has never been one for the modern world. He once described his time in the alternative rock band Verbena as like being “an infant in a crib full of bats.” After that band folded, his solo records eschewed the glossy electronics and rousing crescendos popular in the late 2000s. Instead, he wrote unfashionable, blues-steeped country. Try as they may, placements of Bondy’s songs in popular television shows like “Friday Night Lights” couldn’t lure him from the margins, where he was content to play intimate rooms—just a simple guy with a guitar, a harmonica his only shiny thing.
It’s been eight years since Bondy last released a record, and his distaste for the present day has intensified. But rather than avoid popular sounds, on Enderness he gathers and subverts modern tools to construct his indictment of the modern world. With an arsenal of synthesizers, drum machine, sparse electric guitar, and a skeptic’s pen, he builds a plodding dystopian story of living death stoked by internet anti-reality, big pharma conspiracy, and environmental apocalypse—aka 2019. It’s existential dread as mid-tempo cradlesong, the music of our worst sleepless nights. “Stranger if you come/Know that much is broken/I forget the way/Surrender is spoken,” he sings on album standout “Images of Love,” bass pulses driving the caustic groove.
On “Diamond Skull,” Bondy strings tragic and worrying subjects of popular obsession into a stream-of-consciousness phantasmagoria over a simple guitar riff, like Nick Cave on “Higgs Boson Blues.” Observations about white nationalism, spiritual charlatans, and hollow celebrity worship spill into internet speak: “OMG sea to sea/L-M-F-A-O,” he sings with a knowing wink. Like so many who simultaneously bemoan and fuel the simulation—tweets and grams as a form of self-flagellation—Bondy is both in on and imprisoned by the joke. Case in point: He tweeted for the first time in February to promote Enderness, and he’s dropped only seven breadcrumbs since. “#TBT to when my house burned down,” he posted on May 2 with a photo of himself in Christ pose, standing amid a melted stove and other charred debris. The fire happened the day after he finished the album.
Three wordless meditations—“The Tree With the Lights,” “Pan Tran,” and “Enderness”—separate the movements of the album’s greater statement, across which Bondy seems to change perspective. First he writes from a character’s viewpoint. Then, he's an omniscient narrator. With 'Lost Hills,' toward the end of the album, he's in the first person. He describes destruction in California, where his house burned down, and the literal and figurative emptiness left behind: “Apocalypse from every highway/The places that we fled/As I return to California/My spirit underfed.” The title track recalls a new-age-inspired channeling of the ocean’s waves via rolling synthesizer effects, reflecting all that washes over us in our day-to-day existence with crushing and renewing force—a fitting conclusion to an album of absurdist brain-spill.
Twelve years ago, Bondy expressed his sorrow in sparse, strummed and finger-picked acoustic guitar. Today, he uses a mesh of electronics, alternately celestial and hellish in tone and tempo: beautiful, sad-bastard music sourced from lonely sojourns down the information superhighway. It isn’t so different from his standard posture, mercilessly grabbing at the heart with earnest (and at times heavy-handed) narratives sung in an alluring, unvarnished voice. With Enderness Bondy brings us squarely into the present, where our homes are on fire and all we can do is tweet.