For months before the release of his debut full-length, Nodes of Overtones, local songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Anders Mattson distributed home recordings among a closed circuit of fans and friends. Featuring songs of plucked viola and strummed ukuleles over which Mattson's voice hung like a lake fog, these bedroom and basement tapes were embryonic versions of the material that would end up on his completed release. The finished Nodes of Overtones has a patina of post-production twinkle and some structural tweaks, and while fans of both his volumes might yearn for the sonic anemia that made his demo tapes so appealing, there is no doubt that Anders Ponders' work is best served on the fine china.
Halfway through album opener "The Discus Incident," Mattson scores his first kill stroke. "That way we'll never grow older together," he sings amid a thicket of cascading violin plucks, "Isn't it better to be young forever?" Tall words have been invented to describe this kind of musical finery, and most of them look preposterous on paper. But Nodes of Overtones is a wonder to hear, an eight-track atlas of the most vulnerable, ecstatic dimensions of being young and prone to foolish passions. As a lyricist, Mattson has a masterfully light touch—on tracks like "Icarus" and "How We've Grown," he displays a poet's gift for illuminating artifacts of lost love and diminishing youth without ever robbing them of their mystery. As a musician, Mattson is a virtuoso, performing every track of piano, violin, guitar, and ukulele; these songs are ornately composed and lack all affect and pretense. There are moments when Mattson approaches the precious—"Pomegranate" is the disc's least effective track, a bouncy ode that smacks ever so slightly of aspartame. But by the time the album hits "Mr. Butterfly," its second-to-last track, the deal is sealed. Evoking Elliott Smith's affection for the dizzying romantic fall, and even exceeding Smith's talents for expressing that exhilarating death drop, "Mr. Butterfly" is the album's finest turn, and its most heartbreaking.
Like a tin of old love letters, Nodes of Overtones makes one fond of past pain, nostalgic for old devastations, and hopeful of future heartbreak. It is an ode to love itself. It is the emergence of one of the most refreshing musical voices in years. It is a masterpiece.
ANDERS PONDERS performs with Chickadee Mountain Martyrs, Tender Meat, and Terracide on FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, at the HEXAGON BAR, 612.722.3454; and with Mates of State on SATURDAY, DECEMBER 12, at the WEISMAN ART MUSEUM, 612.625.9494