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Bardo Pond - Bardo Pond

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Artist: Bardo Pond

Album: Bardo Pond

Label: Fire

Review date: Jan. 10, 2011

Bardo Pond’s single “Don’t Know About You” is a fair, though incomplete, introduction to this sprawling two-vinyl-disc recording, encapsulating the band’s essence without exploring any of its divergences. Except for the length -- relatively short at just under four and a half minutes --it gives a representative taste of the band’s swirl and dirge. Here are the obliteratingly heavy guitars twining around ethereal vocals, the two tones melding in an intoxicatingly off-centered way that makes you continually wonder if you are listening to the primary idea or being distracted by peripherals. And here are the spreading pools of organic sound that seep, like a thick liquid, across boundaries of meter, genre and key. There are drums, of course, bashing out ritually slow tempos, but the main sense is not of forward motion but of timelessness. The end of this song sounds much like the beginning; the middle like either end. It feels shapeless like the universe feels shapeless -- unbounded and curving back in on itself.

All this is sort of standard Bardo Pond procedure, a formless form that the band has been pursuing at least since Dilate and maybe before. It hits its zenith on this new self-titled album in the 20-minute-plus “Undone,” which begins in haunted croons and unruffled guitars -- one picking out lattice work, the other vaulting up over this structure in sustained serenity. It sounds, for a good 10 or 11 minutes, like a particularly ghostly, quietly feral interpretation of folk blues, Loren Mazzacane Conors accompanying Christina Carter. Then gradually, starting about midway through the cut, the guitars become denser and more insistent, the drums rear out of murky depths, and the whole piece turns wildly rock. You can’t even pinpoint where it happens, but at some point, ethereality turns into muscle, reverie into distortion-fuzzed mayhem.

“Undone” is really, really good, and well worth the investment of time and attention that it requires to really process a cut this long and enveloping. (It resists multi-tasking.) Yet what’s really interesting about this album is where it diverges from the standard, into less charted regions of tranquil folk and motorik propulsion.

Let’s start with the folk side of Bardo Pond, best represented here by “Sleeping,” a steady rain of acoustic strumming, overlaid with Isobel Sollenberger’s iridescent flute and weird underwater sustained tones that might come from synthesizer or treated guitar. Unfurling sleepily, edgelessly, unsettlingly, it is simultaneously soothing, a bit dangerous and altogether unearthly. Such tunes are, obviously, not a new development for Bardo Pond, and you could set “Sleeping” down next to “Isle” from Ticket Crystals without a bit of friction. It’s a reminder that, though they are usually compared to the louder hallucinatories like Sonic Youth, Mogwai, Acid Mothers Temple and Kinski, Bardo Pond has also sat at the center of Philadelphia’s freak folk scene for more than a decade, sharing stages with unamplified folk pickers like Fursaxa and Sharron Kraus, too.

The real surprise is “Cracker Wrist,” an uncharacteristically driving, beat-centered piece of work that links Bardo Pond to bands like Neu! Most Bardo Pond compositions seem to strand you in a motionless Sargasso Sea, but “Cracker Wrist” moves so fluently, so insistently, that you can almost feel the hair pushing back from your forehead. Viscerally exciting rhythms undergird this cut, in a relentless pulse that challenges you to keep up. And then, about five minutes in, it runs into a wall, stopping instantly and clearing space for a dreamy aria of altered blues. It’s like you’ve been rushing all along to reach this place, the dead center, the eye of the hurricane.

Bardo Pond’s self-titled is a massive, monumental piece of work, proving once again that this long-running outfit can still crank the heavy, mind-numbing psych that it’s always been known for. Yet it also demonstrates that Bardo Pond can break away from expectations and try equally hypnotic tricks with folk serenity, motion and drive. The band has found a way to remain wholly itself for 20 years now, and what’s more impressive, it’s done so without getting stuck.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Bardo Pond

On The Ellipse

Cypher Document 1

Ticket Crystals


Read More

View all articles by Jennifer Kelly

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