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Monday, February 13, 2017

P.O.D. -- The Fundamental Elements of Southtown


The introduction of my "cool cousin" Jessica to these reviews last month was very deliberate. Jessica plays a very important part in this P.O.D. narrative.
When I was a senior in high school, Jessica moved to Texas for a little while, and I lost my pipeline to coolness. Thankfully, she came back to visit for a little while in early 2000, and while taking me to a bunch of cool places, humored a question from me.
"Hey, so I've kind of been coming back to my faith lately. Musical encouragement is always nice, but lately, I've really been in a kind of Deftones mood. Like heavy music that could still be played on the radio. I haven't found any Christian bands like that. I love Deftones, but I wouldn't mind having a Christian go-to band with a similar sound."
"Have you ever heard of P.O.D.?"
I had not, but I sure went to Wal-Mart as soon as Jessica headed back to the Lonestar state, so I could pick up the new P.O.D.. My little brother, not the biggest fan of heavy music, was forced to listen to the CD with me, but he sure got used to it because I listened to P.O.D.'s The Fundamental Elements of Southtown so many times that I wore the plastic off the compact disc.
Why, though? Why did I listen to this album a billion times? Why did P.O.D. grow such a fervent fanbase? How did they manage to unseat boyband and pop-starlets from the top-spot on MTV's Total Request Live again and again?
I'm gonna go with authenticity.
P.O.D. don't seem like a bunch of whiny poseurs. They seem like four talented musicians from diverse musical backgrounds, creating a vivid musical image of the tough San Diego streets where they grew up.
World-building is not something frequently mentioned when people talk about music. This has been a singles dominated musical culture for...ever, but the albums I enjoy the most take me to another place. A couple great singles surrounded by non-cohesive filler does not do it for me.
P.O.D. set about world-building immediately in The Fundamental Elements of Southtown. "Greetings" welcomes the listener before "Hollywood" keys the listener in on a town north of San Diego that isn't where the band hail from. P.O.D. create a general feeling of darkness in "Hollywood," with dark atmospheric guitar and Sonny's under-stated vocals alternating with heavy riffs and aggressive vocals in the chorus. "Hollywood" makes a point that selling your soul to get away might be worse than staying put. The song ends with a chilling Cruella Deville-esque laugh before diving into a song about where P.O.D. are from, "Southtown."
"Southtown" describes the perilous youth of vocalist, Sonny Sandoval, as he recalls the constant feeling of not knowing if he would live through the day.. The song feels real, yet it also combines a rare combination of heaviness and catchiness--not insipid catchiness, but memorability.
The band then segue into a very important aspect of their sound. If TFEOS was all "Thank God I didn't die today" moroseness, it wouldn't be all that enjoyable to listen to. Thankfully, P.O.D. like to have fun, and "Checkin' Levels" introduces that side of the band. It's a segue track featuring Sonny free-styling over the band tuning up, which leads directly to "Rock the Party," a song about exactly what it is titled. However, even "Rock the Party" seems to have a social consciousness, as well as an outpouring of goodwill, as Sonny raps out, "to spread His love is the master plan." The band show here that their religion isn't a glum thing they want to force upon people, but simply their way of life. This was a great album for a young Christian like I was nearly 20(!) years ago, and now, even as my life has grown vastly more complex and complicated, it still feels like a spiritual oasis, its positive vibes a balm.
"Lie Down," picks up right where "Southtown" left off. To this point, the band have shown their metal and hip-hop roots, but as "Lie Down" ends, the band unroll an authentic reggae song that still sits comfortably among their best work.
"Set Your Eyes to Zion" is mystical, chilled-out to the core, revealing Marcos Curiel as a guitar player filled with soul. The song is about as good an album centerpiece as one could ask for.

This is followed by the transitional instrumental, "Lo Siento," which shows off the band's latin music influences (3 of 4 members are Latino). We then get a blazingly angry U2 cover, some more atmospheric, world-building segues, and songs that blend all of the influences I've previously mentioned. I am particularly fond of "Tribal," which posits the band at the forefront of a sort of religious and social movement, taking the misfits around the band, and transforming them into agents of positive change. For at least a decade, this band was highly capable of mobilizing its fans, creating a "Warrior" movement. I also love the emotional throughline (another underrated quality in a great album!) P.O.D. maintain across TFEOS, introducing themselves and who they are in the first tracks, introducing a feeling of darkness that builds in the third quarter, and slowly moving to a comforting, albeit, heavy catharsis through the last quarter to album-closer "Outkast," while never losing that sense of fun (and allowing the sounds they create a great deal of space...another important quality in an album!). With all this momentum, P.O.D. had nowhere to go but up.

1999 Atlantic
1. Greetings 1:29
2. Hollywood (featuring Lisa Papineau) 5:22
3. Southtown 4:08
4. Checkin' Levels 1:06
5. Rock the Party (Off the Hook) 3:24
6. Lie Down 5:09
7. Set Your Eyes to Zion 4:06
8. Lo Siento 0:33
9. Bullet the Blue Sky (originally written and performed by U2) (featuring Lisa Papineau) 5:18
10. Psalm 150 0:55
11. Image 3:32
12. Shouts 0:55
13. Tribal 4:26
14. Freestyle 3:57
15. Follow Me 3:43
16. Outkast (hidden track begins at 6:22) 9:33


Azure Ides-Grey said...

"P.O.D. don't seem like a bunch of whiny poseurs."

YOU CAN'T SAY THAT ABOUT MY FAVORITE EMO BAND ;) Joking aside, I should check this out. Always loved the artwork, but it's more or less been Satellite and Payable on Death for me.

Nicholas said...

Though I am (spoiler alert) going to give Satellite an equally glowing review, I like this album the best. It has this special lived-in quality and conjures that time and place perfectly. Definitely check it out (during an emo break :) )