BARDO POND: DILATE (2001)
1) Two Planes; 2) Sunrise; 3) Inside; 4) Aphasia; 5) Favorite Uncle; 6) Swig; 7) Despite The Roar; 8) LB.; 9) Hum; 10) Ganges.
Course correction: as the tires hit the gravel on Set And Setting, somebody had enough sense to swerve the steering wheel back to where it belongs. Not only are we back to the proper running length (seventy minutes, just enough for the trip to be fruitful!), but the echoey, multi-layered production is also back, returning us to those intersecting seas of feedback that are Bardo Pond's prime reason for existence.
For starters, ʽTwo Planesʼ is probably the most atmospheric thing they have done since Amanita. The rhythm guitar / lead guitar / violin trio represents the ultimate in psychedelic chemistry — as the atonal, discordant violins tear into your brain like tiny scalpels, the chiming wah-wah lead phrase acts like some sort of pain-neutralizing mystical balm, while the chugging rhythm chords gradually gain in heaviness, culminating in a nightmarish acid rain — then dissipating back into the initial quiet. The whole thing has a somber autumnal mood and should probably best be heard on one of those gray, depressing days — better still if it happens to take place on a distant planet.
Another impressive example of the band's ever-increasing skill at building stuff up and then bringing it down is ʽInsideʼ — starts out as your average upbeat, rhythmic indie pop-rocker, with acoustic and electric guitars playing snippets of cuddly-cutesy melodies off each other for a few minutes before growing, slowly and gradually, into a psychonightmare. Technically, there is nothing new here when you take it in context, but the contrast between the «innocent» beginnings and the hellish developments is even more radical than it used to be, and the tempo at which this is taken is also rather unusual for the band.
More questionable is the album's heavy dependence on quiet acoustic patterns — most of the songs incorporate acoustic rhythms, and some, alarmingly, never get beyond these rhythms (ʽFavorite Uncleʼ sounds like James Taylor on elephant tranquilizers; ʽSwigʼ is «formally» redeemed by incorporating raga elements, complete with tabla playing and all, but how many Western artists playing bits of Indian ragas have we already had to endure in these past fourty years?). As usual, Isobel is all over the place, and now that we have so many quiet, unplugged parts to sit through, it is very much a matter of how charmed you generally are by her vocalizations — personally, I happen to think that Bardo Pond's neuro-stimulation could work more acutely if some of these songs concentrated exclusively on guitar string and electronic resonance.
Still, these are all minor problems compared to what happens when we get to the real heavy stuff: ʽLB.ʼ is built upon sludgy Sabbath-y riffs, while ʽGangesʼ flows on with such creaking and screeching pain that its eleven minutes are just enough to make you eco-conscious — the song's clashing guitar and violin lines are just about as dirty as the great river itself. No huge surprises from either of these tracks, but both of them manipulate the listener's brain just as effectively as any given highlight on any given B.P. album.
In short, minor twists and defects aside, the band returns to the tried and true, puts the cherry of ʽTwo Planesʼ on top, and earns its regular thumbs up for the atmospherics, the craftsmanship, and the dedication. Oh, and superb album art, too, quite in the grand old psychedelic tradition, but with a nice modern-day scientific twist.
Check "Dilate" (MP3) on Amazon