- by Bill Golembeski Release Date:2017-03-24 Label: Fire Records
Bless me father, I have a confession: I last heard Bardo Pond seven years ago, and I wasn’t impressed. This just didn’t fit into my usual musical diet. But, as Jethro Tull’s first album stated, “... things change. Don’t they?” They certainly do because I like this new album, Under the Pines, quite a bit. The first song, “Crossover,” after several plays, becomes oddly addictive. The brothers Gibbons entwine their guitars like the very best of those old Neil Young and Crazy Horse jams circa Everyone Knows This Place Is Nowhere. Sure, this is spacey grunge rock and has some distant affinity to those cosmic bands like Guru Guru, Brainticket, or Ash Ra Temple; but this is Americana space rock, and that makes a big difference with, oddly, an occasional bit of country and pedal steel guitar thrown into the mix. Of course in contrast, Isobel Sollenberger’s vocals ride the wave of a distant radio signal with melodies from a strange and very distant world. This is beautiful stuff. What was I thinking way back then?
Just an idea: In Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (according to Stephen Hawking) “each observer has his own measure of time, and, because of motion, time runs more slowly in space.” This music, as it gains intensity, slows down, as if the very time in which it exists has been delayed; yet it still plays at our audio constant of thirty-three and a third rpm. Perhaps that’s part of its appeal: It’s much slower than it should be, but at the same time, it really shouldn’t be any faster. The music reminds me of a bit of graffiti I once read on a bathroom wall in Dublin, Ireland, that said, “It is what it is, and it’s a pretty good is.”
The second song, “Out of Reach,” slows the pace even more and ventures into extended progressive rock (in its true essence) and clocks in at over ten minutes. Yes, this is prog rock, but don’t expect the usual side-long epic multi-part suite that uses classical music as a model. No, this is one long lovely pulse of a song that hovers and swirls for quite a while as Isobel’s vocals float in juxtaposition above the electric distortion of the guitars. There’s quite a bit here: psych, grunge, and space rock. It even has a bit of that shoegazing stuff. Mr Radue, aka Jazz Guy, hears minimalism and even the guitar feedback of Sonny Sharrock. I’m reminded of Bill Laswell’s power trio, Material, with Fred Firth on effects-laden guitar. My friend, Kilda Defnut, who has been a fan of Bardo Pond for many years, likens their twin guitar sound music to “snakes in a weird mating dance.” By the way, Kilda has her own theology which is based on books, music, and dogs (her three loves in life), and she claims that Bardo Pond’s music is the aural equivalent of her Sacred Maxim IV, which states, “Patience forces gravity to behave.” I think she may be right.
“Moment to Moment” brings a welcome change. Somebody has declared, “Let there be flute.” This adds yet another dimension to the space of the music. And to that, I can only admire Isobel’s talent and cite, again, Kilda Defnut’s theology which says, in her Sacred Maxim XXII, “More flute, please!”
But, and I hate to say this, by the time Isobel sings in “Under the Pines, “I am so happy I could cry” with such languid sadness (in an almost-Lucinda Williams voice), I have the urge to give her a little hug, sit her down on a shrink’s couch, and hope that she gets some Prozac, just to see if it would make a difference. Hamlet is always right as he says, “Aye, there’s the rub.” You know, there came a time in Homer’s Odyssey when all his men were quite smitten with the “honey-sweet fruit” they found in the Land of the Lotus Eaters, a place that could have easily used a few songs from this album as a national anthem. And sure, that Lotus Land and that lotus “fruit” were pretty great, but there did come a time when it was necessary, if not down-right imperative, for Odysseus to get back to Ithaca, string that big bow, rescue the ever-patient Penelope, crank up a vinyl copy of Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power on the stereo, and kick some serious suitor butt! The same might be true for the music on this record.
That criticism aside, I think the fans of the band will enjoy this record, especially the lovely ending instrumental, “Effigy.” This is, indeed, beautiful stuff. The album deserves some airplay to garner more listeners into the Bardo Pond fold. I know that my initial skepticism was won over while I spent my time with those Lotus Eaters and listening to the words of Lewis Carroll’s advice-giving caterpillar.