Saturday, August 05, 2006

Bardo Pond

Ticket Crystals
The band has stated that this record Ticket Crystals completes the trilogy that started with Dilate and continued with On the Ellipse. I felt that On the Ellipse was really a song cycle with all the songs leading up to the climax, the stunning “Night of Frogs.” This album harkens back to earlier sprawling records with glorious gobs of gunk oozing off the edges like Bufo Alvarius or Amanita.

The opening track “Destroyer Angel” is up there with any of the tracks that have flattened us completely in the past like “Walking Stick Man” or “Tommy Gun Angel.” The dual banshee wails of Isobel Sollenberger and special guest vocalist Christina Madonia is a real treat. Isobel’s volatile flute lines hold up well against the Gibbons brothers’ guitar squalor. Clint’s Bass and Ed’s drumming pummel you into submission.

“Isle” could have been off On The Ellipse. It starts off with John Gibbons (I think) on acoustic guitar and Isobel’s angelic vocals before the whole band joins in. Isobel seems to be exercising more control over the effects on her vocals instead of using the effects and delays as a wall to hide behind. She now uses them for a very precise purpose. She controls when she wants the listener to comprehend what she is saying and when she wants to obscure the meaning. Her self-assurance is a marked change from when I first saw the band play ten years ago this year at T.T. the Bears (has it been that long?). Then she could barely ask the sound guy to change her flute in the mix.

Her lyrics remain as mysterious as ever, even though now you can hear clearly most of the lyrics (when she wants you to). I still have no idea what the door she found “At the end of the day” on the song “Isle” is, or where it leads. All I know is that it takes you somewhere very nice.

Michael Gibbons, with the studio at the Lemur House where 3/5 of the band lives, is free to endlessly tweak the mixes (the studio is directly next to his living space on his floor of the Bardo compound). On “Lost Words” Tom Greenwood from Jackie-O Motherfucker lends his guitar playing to the track. Michael used backward drum tracks and multiple layers of Isobel’s vocals to build up dense layers of sound, but not so impenetrable that those small sounds like bells and flute can’t peek through the haze.

I disagree with most reviewers of this disc who say the highlight of the disc is the cover, “Cry Baby Cry” by John Lennon. To be honest my tolerance for the Beatles is fairly low, even with Bardo covering them. This is due to the fact that my older siblings subjected me to one too many Beatles A-Z weekends on ‘MMR or ‘YSP. I don’t think the cover is bad in any way. It is the placement I question. It takes the listener out of the crystalline dream the band is creating. Maybe that was the band’s intent. I think the song would be better served placed at the end of the record as a coda. If people still made seven inches it would be a great b-side.

The eighteen minute “FCII” might seem daunting to some. I am sure with the proper set and setting, the journey could be most enjoyable (if you know what I mean). This song reminds me of the more sprawling works found on the CD-R Vol. series. Clint’s bass rumbles and thuds along as Isobel’s serrated violin scrapes along the surface. It is joined by squalls of feedback courtesy of the Gibbons boys. To fully enjoy, this track must be played at the proper volume i.e. very, very loud.

I think “Moonshine” could become a fan favorite much like the life affirming “Be a Fish.” Isobel harmonizes with herself with just acoustic guitar and bells before the rest of the band joins in on Ed’s bouncy beats. In contrast, the last couple of records seemed darker and sometimes almost prophetic. The song “Two Planes” was released shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The song is such a sad lament that one would think it was written to memorialize the attacks despite it being released just before them. They also released a song called “Torture, Torture,” just prior to when the prisoner abuse scandal came to light in the imperialist misadventure in Iraq. It seems that with “Moonshine” that hopefulness and joy has returned to the Lemur abode.

“Endurance” opens up with a huge guitar sound before going into a murky, muddy and dirty style of the blues that Bardo were fond of doing early in their career, like “Blues Tune,” the b-side to the “Dragon Fly” seven-inch. The lyrics written by Gary Snyder are as enigmatic as anything Isobel has written -- “We belong to the mountain,” and “We are already spoken for” -- but are fun to mumble to yourself while driving down the road.

“Montana Sacra II” finds Michael Gibbons playing around with audio for an old science fiction or horror movie. The voice says in a garbled way, “I am not afraid to bleed, because there is no death.” It reminds me of the creeping David Letterman sample he used on “Sit, Sleep.” The guitar lines of John and Mike drip down the walls like molasses. Ed’s drumming moves at a snail’s pace. This type of muddy gelatinous sound is why I fell in love with this band in the first place over a decade ago.

This record was well worth the wait. Believe me there was a wait, thanks to the general incompetence of All Tomorrow’s Parties record label. Like the frustrated record clerk told me about ATP, “They may put on nice festivals but they can’t get a record out on time to save their life. Bardo needs to get on a real record label.” It seems grossly unfair to a band of Bardo Pond’s stature to miss not one but three release dates. Because ATP had missed so many release dates, when it did come out many stores did not bother to order it because they were unsure if it was really out.

Now I would not mention this if this was an isolated incident, but this has happened numerous times to various artists on the label. I had to special order the Selections Vol. I-IV compilation CD from a well respected independent record store in the Philadelphia area because ATP never bothered to get into even local stores in Philly. It is such a shame to include such negativity in a review of such a great album. Bardo Pond really needs to get on a record label that gives them the respect they deserve.

It is amazing that Bardo Pond has been around for over 15 years. I first heard them on a college radio station from University of Delaware. The first time I heard the “Dragonfly” 7” (circa 1992) I knew that I loved this band. For weeks after hearing that seven-inch on the radio I would walk around my house muttering to my self, “Bardo Fucking Pond;” I still do sometimes. It is so great that they continue to make great music after all these years. (ATP) (Dan Cohoon)