Album Review: Bombadil, ‘Hold On’
When Bombadil arrived with their 2008 debut, A Buzz, a Buzz, they were a group of college students with a penchant for pleasant folk-pop that constantly teetered between charmingly sure-footed and overly saccharine.
Seven years later, the Durham, N.C.-based outfit are on their fifth full-length, Hold On, and though they maintain their signature brand of quirky pop, any naiveté this time around is strategically produced as a means to highlight elements of dark and light the band juxtaposes throughout the album’s 12 tracks.
Hold On meticulously builds this dichotomy between its cheery and clever instrumentation and the band's dexterous and quick-witted wordplay that largely deals in plights of the heart.
This is established within the album’s very first track, “Coughing on the F Train,” which announces itself with animated horns before delving into the band’s hyper-literate yet accessible songwriting. “F Train” addresses the kinds of inconveniences that anyone could get on board with: sick passengers on public transit; inadequate cell service. But the indie-pop outfit quickly lets listeners know that those observations are merely a vessel for a message that runs much deeper: “What would you say if I still adored you / I told myself I would never talk to you / I told myself I would never reach out to you,” Bombadil’s Daniel Michalak sings, later adding, “Are we friends or on a date?” The song’s sentiments detail the uncertainties and insecurities of relationships that virtually everyone has known at one point or another.
Bombadil seem to constantly strive for that stark forthrightness. Aside from a few outlier tracks -- namely the imperceptible stream-of-consciousness of “Bill You For Your Trash” -- Hold On is committed to sourcing from its songwriters’ own experiences.
“Almost all Bombadil songs are true stories,” Michalak said upon the release of the album’s lead single, “Amy’s Friend.” “We don’t really like making stuff up, so when you listen to this, realize it’s based in truth.”
Bombadil are steadfast in their everyman storytelling. While the band’s past efforts leaned on their folk sensibilities, Hold On embraces baroque and power-pop. With their distinctly precise diction in tow, it conjures comparisons to Ben Folds, Ok Go and the lesser-known Michigan indie-pop outfit Tally Hall. That infectious bombast manifests itself in piano-driven instrumentation and joyous three-part harmonies that contrast the band's purposefully familiar narratives.
A blippy, electronic intro introduces us to “Forgive Me Darling”’s central plea for a partner to exonerate the speaker of past indiscretions. “I Can’t Believe in Myself” tackles the feeling of not being enough in a relationship: “You tell me that you need me / Is that the worst lie you can feed me / Even if I believed it / I’d still be hungry.” Or, there’s the arguably most candid song of the collection, “Sunny December,” which acts as a thematic centerpiece for the album: “Love is a disease / It infects what you believe about yourself and the others you need.”
For Bombadil, maturity is found in the subtle but calculated choices they’ve made since their 2008 debut. The innocent earnestness that might have distracted from their earlier efforts now serves as a tool for underscoring clever, thoughtful and poignant pop.