A.A. Bondy at Lincoln Hall / by Doyle Armbrust

Entering the world of A.A. Bondy’s first two albums, 2007’s American Hearts and 2009’s When the Devil’s Loose, one pictures tin lawn chairs, a six-pack of Shiner Bock and a battered Airstream. The former Verbena frontman’s milieu is in fact far more immersive than the chapped vocals and slack guitar strumming of these records let on. On the new Believers, the tone shifts from Americana-infused balladry to something with a bit more polish.

For many, the inroads to Bondy’s catalog came through one of his more captivating numbers—“Killed Myself When I Was Young”—a standout on a surprisingly excellent soundtrack, Friday Night Lights Vol. 2. Those wistful and aching melodies, perfect for a reflective television drama about small-town football, have been sublimated beneath synth pads and a brasher mix of backing instruments on Believers. Thankfully, Auguste Arthur’s soulfulness remains intact.

The album’s dreamy finale, “Scenes from a Circus,” floats atop reluctant cymbal taps and reverb-heavy guitar washes, as Bondy languidly arches through nostalgic lines. “How are you dreaming / High on your hill / Gold in the turning light / I remember it still,” he sings. The lyrical content here may have moved beyond the apocalyptic verses of American Hearts, but ambiguities of faith and loneliness prevail.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on November 2nd, 2011