BARDO POND: SET AND SETTING (1999)
1) Walking Stick Man; 2) This Time (So Fucked); 3) Datura; 4) Again; 5) Lull; 6) Cross Current; 7) Crawl Away; 8) #3.
Listen to all the Bardo Pond albums in a row and you will know more about chemical lore than you ever bothered to ask — in this case, for instance, I was not even aware that «set and setting» was an actual Timothy Leary term for the conditions of substance intake. Somewhere along the way the band lost Joe Culver («lapsed», eh?), and now the drums are handled by John Gibbons — no big deal: considering the essence of their sound, Bardo Pond could easily do without drums altogether and no one might even notice. Still, this is not a good omen, nor is their stubborn insistence on preserving the short running length (49 minutes — what a shameful piddle).
The production seems to shift a bit from «interstellar» environments in the direction of your bedroom: ʽWalking Stick Manʼ is an 11 minute-long drone that puts the fuzz straight in your ears without burdening it with echoes, reverb, or any other «distancing» effects. It also seems to lack any sort of development — once the thing is established, one minute into the song, it just keeps going in circles, like a classic-period Aerosmith «sleaze riff» stuck in mid-note. Later on, ʽAgainʼ does the same thing grunge-style, with six and a half minutes of speedy nuclear fallout without intermissions or relaxations; and then ʽCrawl Awayʼ generates nine minutes of high-pitched feedback that never move away from the initially set point. And, naturally, Isobel and her sleep-walking mumbling are all over these and more.
The point, apparently, is not just to remind us that «Bardo Pond» and «allegedly meaningful monotonousness» are freely replaceable synonyms, but to prove this equation beyond any sort of reasonable doubt — fast-forward to any random spot on any of the longer tracks and you will hear the exact same thing. Some of the fans were actually worried over this, and I share the worry, because one of the major attractions of this band at its best was its subtle ability to build up the atmosphere, adding more and more layers to the sound until the rainy pitter-patter became a thunderstorm. This subtlety is completely omitted here, most likely on purpose, just to see what happens, but — at least for somebody who is not planning to use the album as a soundtrack for an actual trip — it might well be so that nothing will actually happen, period.
The most unusual track is ʽCross Currentʼ, which eschews the band's usual guitars for psychedelic violins (the sludge guitars do come in later, so you could say at least one track has some development) — good enough for a change, not good enough as a classic Bardo Pond number, since they end up sounding like a slightly less aggressive Jimmy Page with a bow, and if you are fucking up your violins, at least do that aggressively, so that you do not end up fucking them up for nothing. Speaking of fucking, the best track is probably ʽThis Time (So Fucked)ʼ, not because its title is so true to the album's content, but because it is built on one of those classic simple B.P. wah-wah patterns that rock the mind boat so well — and, of the short tracks, the two-minute interlude ʽLullʼ has a rockabye-baby beauty of its own (mmm, echoey slide guitars).
Nevertheless, as a whole, the album is a disappointment. It does not try to do «more» for the band, nor does it try to go someplace «different»: it tries to up the stakes on «minimalism», but instead, simply gives the appearance of being lazy. And even when you have Bufo Alvarius sitting on your right and Amanita sprouting on your left, this «setting» is a poor excuse for laziness. They used to get really high, and now they are just getting stoned. Thumbs down.
Check "Set & Setting" (MP3) on Amazon