When a band has been making LPs for over two decades and release an album after a gap of five years between full-lengths, comparisons to past efforts are assuredly unavoidable. But not here. Somehow Bardo Pond releases have managed to elude my ears all these years, so this review comes to you unencumbered by expectation.
This self-titled LP is purported to be a distillation of the Philadelphia psych-rock band’s cauldron of drugged-out space jams. It’s steeped in 70’s space-rock and favors heavy, free-form muscle chords over structured songwriting, while maintaining psychedelic underpinnings.
Opening tracks “Just Once” and “Don’t Know About You” parallel the musical explorations of Acid Mothers Temple with wailing, screeching guitar solos on top of chugging, fuzzed-out guitar chords amid walls of distortion and feedback. “Sleeping” follows with a less frenetic pace, employing eerie synth washes and spacey guitars, but it never quite takes off and sounds more like something a hard rock band would use as a cool intro. “Undone” is an unstructured piece featuring wiry guitar solos with plenty of wah-wah and fuzz. “Cracker Wrist” is a long, two-part rocker that starts with ghostly, Radiohead-sounding guitars and electronic noodlings that transforms into an acid-rock jam with a swirling mix of turbulent guitars, thundering bass and hammering drums and cymbal crashes. Closer “Wayne’s Tune” is the album’s best track. It’s spacey, undulating rhythms conjure feelings of floating on a calm sea at night after the passing of a raging storm. Yet the calm sea is shrouded in fog as you drift by mysterious islands inhabited by alien ghosts.
Tempering the frenzied atmospherics are the powerful vocals of Isobel Sollenberger. Sometimes sounding like a drunken Sheryl Crow, but mostly like a stoner Goddess and often functioning as a calming influence, the vocals provide a focus that the music sometimes lacks.
Music pioneer Brian Eno once said, “Avant-garde music is sort of research music. You’re glad someone’s done it but you don’t necessarily want to listen to it”. Bardo Pond is not necessarily Avant-garde, but neither is it easy listening. It does however, defy categorization and perhaps with a little less unguided frenzy and a little more tempered structure would allow this reviewer to recommend it.