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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bardo Pond: On The Ellipse


BARDO POND: ON THE ELLIPSE (2003)

1) JD; 2) Every Man; 3) Dom's Lament; 4) Test; 5) Walking Clouds; 6) Night Of Frogs.

Six tracks? Even though the largest clocks in at 12:56, and the smallest is nearly seven minutes in length, that still brings us down to under an hour, and I still say, for a band like Bardo Pond, that's no good. We need at least twenty minutes to get on that boat, twenty more to pump our stomachs and be done with the seasickness, and then, just as you are finally ready to go with the flow... the journey's over. Psychobummer.

On the other hand, On The Ellipse may be just the kind of Bardo Pond album that we wouldn't want to go on forever, because this is where the band undergoes a shift of attitude. Suddenly, the psychedelic netherworld tones down its usual primordial soup bubbling, and out comes... soul. Or some psychedelic netherworld equivalent of soul, at least — the whole album is permeated with wailing, moaning, groaning, sighing, and grumbling: this is definitely one unhappy soul out there, cloaking the lava surface of the planet in universal sorrow.

ʽJDʼ opens the proceedings with an almost minute-long flat wave of high-pitched feedback — just enough time to clear a couple square miles around from all living souls — before adding a morose acoustic rhythm and Isobel's never-changing ghost vocals. The formula itself remains fairly standard, right down to the gradual intensification of the sea of electric noise, but the way they use this «clean feedback» on the track is new to Bardo Pond's manner of thinking, and may produce a serious depressive-demolishing effect on the brain if allowed to go on for all of its seven minutes.

From there, the dirgey atmosphere only keeps deepening: ʽEvery Manʼ could almost just as well be recorded by the likes of the atmospheric doom metal band Agalloch, with its interchange of melancholic acoustics and minimalistic heavy riffage (plus a safety pillow of floating flutes), and ʽDom's Lamentʼ is built upon just one sad skeletal flute / guitar mantra that nevertheless has enough depth to somehow warrant seven minutes of repetition.

Of the remaining three tracks, ʽWalking Cloudsʼ is the only one to completely side away from heaviness and just work on the strength of multiple echoey acoustic and vocal overdubs — and yet, somehow, the whole thing never feels as «heavy», in the technical sense, as Amanita or any other classic BP album. It has a different kind of heaviness — a heavy darkness. Bardo Pond were never a particularly «fun» band, but it wasn't until Dilate's ʽTwo Planesʼ that they started experimenting with textures that would be targeted at the listener's emotional rather than physio­logical nerve centers, and apparently, they found the idea quite promising.

So here we are — a whole record of typical BP-style lethargic languidness, but this time dedica­ted to the ruins of their imaginary world, after a good old bombardment has wiped out most of the organic and inorganic activity. ʽNight Of Frogsʼ indeed (and the track opens with an appropriate­ly croaky wah-wah explosion). Is it a good thing? I am not sure — almost every track does have at least one interesting and resonant idea, but the construction mechanics, by now, is so utterly predictable (start out quiet, build up sea of noise, cool it down before the end) that I feel confused — if they are trying to pick at my soul now, why do it the same way they were picking away at my cerebral cortex before? Yes, overall, On The Ellipse has its moments, but I dare say that Bardo Pond were better when they were hot, and here, they are not just simply cold, they are in­tentionally locking themselves up in a freezer — and for what it's worth, Isobel Sollenberger is a respectable lady, but she ain't no Nico.

Check "On The Ellipse" (CD) on Amazon
Check "On The Ellipse" (MP3) on Amazon

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