Psychedelic rockers Bardo Pond’s 2006 beauty gets LP only reissue on Fire Records, Mike Brotherton listened to it for us.
Originating from Philadelphia in the mid-nineties, Bardo Pond are famed for creating huge absorbing soundscapes of psychedelic distortion and feedback. Their music is epic and expansive, with songs often clocking in at over ten minutes which aren’t for the casual listener. They started by putting out self-released tapes, and once a record deal had been secured, their early album titles contained subtle references to psychedelic substances. Bufo Alvarius (1995), for example, is named after a notorious breed of toad that, if licked, induces a trip.
Bardo Pond are also very heavy, the drums stentorian, the guitars droning and slow, topped off by the flute and dreary, often atonal vocals of Isobel Sollenberger. As the group’s sound progressed, the flute and vocals became more prominent, and the song arrangements incorporated quieter parts, enabling Bardo to build up tension into the evermore powerful drones of guitar distortion. This wonderful voyage of sound experimentation culminated with Dilate (2001), arguably the band’s finest album to date.
However, echoing the live sound of the group, the flute and vocals have been characteristically low in the mix for studio recordings. For Bardo Pond’s sixth studio effort Ticket Crystals (2006), this changed. A somewhat mellower, albeit no less psychedelic path was taken, allowing Sollenberger’s vocals, flute, and occasionally her new second instrument, the violin, to feature more prominently in the mix. Interestingly, this as well as having lazy, sometimes flat vocals over bizarre, hypnotic, but no longer overpowering guitars, was a slightly contentious issue for some Bardo fans, but in reality it adds to the weirdness. The flute and vocals are drenched, dreamily, in delay or echo; as evidenced by the sublime “Isle” or the eerie “Moonshine”.
And although Bardo Pond will never be a band to settle on a format, there is still plenty of the usual avant guitar feedback to get swept away under, too. Opening track “Destroying Angel” creates the sort of slow, doom ridden wall of noise that a Bardo follower might expect to hear. Also, on tracks like “Endurance” or “Montana Sacra II” you might not hear any vocals for ages! The latter of which I must say is truly a mind bending weave of hypnotic strangeness. The highlight is most probably the meditative beauty of “Isle”. This track embraces the sedative effect of Sollenberger’s flute and vocals, before the Gibbons brothers’ screeching guitars split open the ethereal soundscape.
The experimental journey that Bardo are on was bound to have plenty of twists. Some might consider Ticket Crystals to be one of their most beautiful. So, for Fire Records to reissue the album following their union with Bardo Pond, along with a wonderful self-titled label debut? And on heavy weight vinyl?! Yes please.
All words by Mike Brotherton. More work by Mike on Louder Than War can be found here.