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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bardo Pond: Bardo Pond


1) Just Once; 2) Don't Know About You; 3) Sleeping; 4) Undone; 5) Cracker Wrist; 6) The Stars Behind; 7) Wayne's Tune.

An eponymous album released late in an artist's career usually indicates some sort of «reboot», but in this case... actually, it isn't «eponymous»: judging by the album cover, it's «untit­led», so let us look for analogies with Led Zeppelin rather than the Beatles. But if Led Zeppelin were relea­sing their untitled album as an experiment, just to see if it'd sell fewer copies without the artist's name on it (and, of course, it didn't), with Bardo Pond, it is rather obvious that their devoted fan army is of a highly stable, yet utterly tiny nature, and it is probably futile to expect it to double just because some Bright Eyes fans might look at the sleeve picture and get the wrong idea.

In any case, Bardo Pond simply picks up from where Ticket Crystals left off — or, rather, «dragged off»; as usual, it is best appreciated if you forget everything you knew about Bardo Pond before listening to it. If at all possible, they seem even slower, dronier, more lethargic here than they used to: this is seventy minute of very draggy, very nerve-wrecking stoner rock. And un­fortunately, the more they seem determined to tighten the grip on the old formula, and squeeze any traces of compromising out of the system, the more boring it all eventually gets. At 21 minu­tes, ʽUndoneʼ is their longest opus so far after ʽAmenʼ, but seems to completely lack the «world-building» enthusiasm of its predecessor — its only interest is in testing the «backwards effect» on its lead guitar lines for about 12 minutes, before the predictable noisy build-up and explosion puts the track on the downward slope for the next 8 minutes.

One of the shorter tracks almost claims to «real song» status, but it isn't a particularly good song: ʽDon't Know About Youʼ sounds like standard fare alt-rock, drowning in sludge guitars, even if it is rendered some­what seductive by its memorable opening lines (Isobel's "Jesus is coming, but I'm willing to wait" isn't exactly on the level of "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine", but it is the first verbal line on a Bardo Pond song, in twenty years, that commands attention).

Of the rest, in between the heavy psychedelic boredom of ʽUndoneʼ and the light aethereal (ʽSlee­pingʼ) or swampy (ʽWayne's Tuneʼ) panoramas of acoustic / slide guitars and flutes, only one track stands out as a worthy addition to the catalog: ʽThe Stars Behindʼ has the good sense to present itself as a pompous, crashing anthem, played in waltz time and sung by Isobel as if it were some highlanders' drinking song, rearranged for a more courtly presentation. This is a fresh approach, fully deserving of receiving the standard Bardo Pond treatment (that is, with the Big Freakout Guitar Build-Up and all that goes with it). Unfortunately, its freshness is rather easy to overlook, seeing as how it is the next to last track on the album.

In short, a four-year break in regular album output might just as well never have happened — these guys are fantastically tenacious in clinging to their Vatican-size fanbase (a whoppin' two reviews for this 2010 album on Amazon just goes to show you who still really cares), and, if any­thing, you gotta have some admiration for this obstinacy. But at this point, they are in their «late period AC/DC» stage — doing the same thing that they used to on auto-pilot, generating second- and third-generation impressions that preserve the form but dissipate the spirit, with an occasional inspired exception every now and then.

Allegedly, it is possible that I have missed out on some fantastic experiences by neglecting the remainder of Bardo Pond's «semi-official» catalog: throughout the 2000s, the band has produced around 12-15 «fan-only» releases (as if anything else they do is not strictly «fan-oriented» as well) that usually contain lengthy improvised psycho jams, recorded before a live audience or in the studio (the first six, from 2000 to 2005, are simply entitled Vol. 1 ... 6, and from there on, sport individual titles). The few bits and pieces I've heard sound like Bardo Pond alright — should we really expect Duke Ellington? — but hardly as if they were saving their absolute best for improv time, so dip in at your own risk if your reverence towards this band exceeds mine.

I can only conclude here that Bardo Pond seem to have outlived their time — they are very much a «1990s» band, and had they simply faded away after Dilate, the world would not have become a lonelier place. But on the other hand, fifty years from now, time will compress itself, and those who come after us will probably look at this stuff from an entirely different angle — for them, the entire «Bardo Pond Collected Works» may simply be one large fifty-hour piece, split into several hundred sections like a set of preludes and fugues. Who knows?

Check "Bardo Pond" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Bardo Pond" (MP3) on Amazon

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