Alabama folk vet Auguste Arthur Bondy describes the tracks off his third album, Believers, as having been “conjured during and between dreams, in bare rooms, and on the late night streets of America.” And “dreamlike” is an adjective that people who talk about music rather enjoy overusing, but Bondy’s “dreamlike” has less to do with an airiness and more of a substance: the scenes he paints and images he creates seem to spring from that place between the conscious and subconscious minds. In fact, Bondy inhabits this space with such skill that Believers encapsulates all the stages one can experience with sleep, from the moment heads hit the pillow to the deepest rapid-eye.
If we were to keep the long day’s journey into night scenario going, the opener and first single “The Heart Is Willing” is that moment when the dread begins to creep up and images of things that go bump in the night begin to manifest. It’s a delightfully creepy blues-tinged number with a beat that stalks and seizes like a swamp beast in the night, while Bondy’s breeze-through-cattails vocals sway and sigh and deliver chills. “Skull & Bones” has a similar undercurrent, a quietly building pulse that runs under the sparse guitar and Bondy’s luminous, ghostly vocals, a heartbeat that brings his haunted Southern landscape to life.
On the lovely “Surfer King,” the narrator has inserted himself into an idyllic scene from his youth. Bondy sounds completely at ease, singing the nightmares away in favor of memories of playing in the tide, letting his voice pour over simple but well-placed couplets like, “under eclipse / I wait for your kiss.” If one could dream in celluloid, the images that resonate here would definitely be in Super 8.
The second half of the album is a cohesive unit and, like the most vivid of dreams, feels longer than it is, occasionally sports some moments and gaps that are easily forgettable but also striking, resonant images and pictures. “Rte. 28/Believers” stretches nearly seven minutes and winds around like a long stretch of Alabama highway late at night, switching gears and slowing down for the second act, play of light and dark. “There may be no ending,” Bondy warns, and for a second, you believe him, until the key shifts and the tone brightens once again. Finale “Scenes From A Circus” brings the listener fully into rapid-eye movement, playing with flashes of sound and vision (hints of calliope and cop siren can be heard in the opening strains) against a lush, almost Jeff Buckley-evoking dreamscape of guitar, keys and lonesome-prairie vocals.
Bondy is an adept folk storyteller, but not in the typical manner—through a series of images and sinister instrumental mise-en-scène, his songs beg to have visuals attached to them without excessive ornamentation or character development. His presence is subtle (sometimes maybe too much so), but Believers will certainly haunt your dreams.