The conflict between style and substance isn’t a modern concept. In 17th century Europe, Baroque art maintained a respectable balance between function and form. Baroque paintings were realistic enough that they effectively told the important stories of the era (mostly biblical or mythological at that time) in an easily comprehendible way, but they were beautiful and dramatic enough that they could be appreciated on an aesthetic level. The art engaged the viewer by being more than the sum of its prettiness and its practicality. Soon though, the Rococo movement came along and, as any art historian will tell you, basically ruined everything. Over-the-top, self-indulgent and frivolous, Rococo artists and designers set aside content altogether. The pieces were pure fluff - giant swirls of pastel and gaudy depictions with absolutely no meaning behind them. Feel free to draw your own conclusions as to what constitutes a modern-day musical equivalent of Rococo, but local musician Anders Mattson may be the most sonically Baroque artist the Twin Cities music scene has ever heard.
Mattson’s debut as Anders Ponders, Nodes of Overtones, is both high art and day in the life of a normal dude. Mattson, also a member of Bouncer Fighter, is a talented multi-instrumentalist who started performing as a child. He complements his viola arrangements with loops, effects, acoustic guitars and stripped-down, organic percussion to make music that is slightly more down-to-earth than fellow string enthusiasts Andrew Bird and Owen Pallett. “I don’t mean to be the type to moralize/I just want a veggie burger with some cheesy fries,” he sings on the unique coming-of-age ballad “Icarus.” The intensity and excitement of “How We’ve Grown” is complemented by pain over a lost love in “Mr. Butterfly,” a song that recalls the best and most tragic moments of Elliott Smith more than it does Bird or Pallett.
Nodes of Overtones may be approachable, but that doesn’t stop it from reaching complex and theatrical heights that are extremely pretty, but not garish. Just like the best Baroque art, each song is more than the sum of its parts. And Mattson is more than just a guy with a viola singing about veggie burgers or a creator of opulent symphonies – he’s a true artist.
Listen to Anders Ponders' recent in-studio session at Radio K