In Tibetan Buddhist cosmology the word, “Bardo” refers to an intermediate state. Specifically, a state between two lives on Earth.
According to Tibetan tradition after one has died and before one’s next birth, one’s consciousness experiences a wide variety of phenomena. These experiences and visions range from beautiful to terrifying and provide one with opportunities to reach enlightenment or to suffer a lower rebirth. This cosmic video game landscape is laid out in extreme detail within the pages of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This book also serves as a guide to be read to the recently deceased to help them as they navigate through the Bardo.
A pond is a body of water which is generally defined by its’ size. A pond is smaller than a lake and is usually shallow enough that sunlight can reach the bottom. Another defining characteristic is that ponds, as opposed to lakes, are usually the result of rain run-off, mineral springs or very small streams. Typically a pond has little or no outflow drainage and as a result ponds develop self-contained ecosystems. Ponds also display the formation of ‘scum” which is the common name for the large amount of dead and decaying vegetation condensing on the surface of the water. A contributor to the pond scum buildup is the presence of algae which multiplies rapidly in the nutrient rich and sunlight exposed waters.
In reading through these definitions I’m struck by how, when combined, they provide a pretty good description of the music of the band, Bardo Pond.
Okay, for any of you literalists out there, I’m not suggesting that the band are all dead water spirits covered in scum! I’m speaking more of a poetic vision of their music and how it winds out. Within their music we find elements of hallucinogenic visions and often there are large squishy mats of algae-like noise.
With “Ticket Crystals” (ATP Recordings) Bardo Pond has released its’ best album yet. I don’t say this lightly as they have put out some heavy stuff in the past eleven years. In particular the albums, ‘Set and Setting” and “Dilate” are awash in vast oceans of sound perfection and ambiance.
However, “Ticket Crystals” simply sets a new standard. It also re-prioritizes elements of their sound. Elements that while they were always present, are now more front and center allowing them to shine.
The obvious and most welcome of these is the voice and flute of Isobel Sollenberger. On previous releases her voice has, while adding texture, been primarily buried under a mountain of crushing feedback. Her flute has shown up before but on this album it also takes center stage. The repositioning of Sollenberger toward the center of Bardo Pond’s sound is an absolute masterstroke! Oddly for a voice that can sound as eerie and wistful as hers, it provides somewhat of an anchor or focal point that helps guide and propel these songs along. Bardo Pond’s music has always been a wild ride. they patch together huge crushing chunks of feedback with time-lag tempos and wrap the whole business in a druggy, vasoline-smeared gauze.
Their music can sound like summer lightning moving through a vast ocean of molasses and believe me folks, that’s a very good thing! Much as Sonic Youth has done on their newest, Bardo Pond has taken one of their sonic signatures, noisy skronk, and is now using it more sparingly or strategically. And just as it did on the SY’s album this usage shows both growth and power. It’s like a great boxer saving their best punch for those perfect moments. Another lovely aspect to this album are the song lengths. In a music culture absolutely awash in 2-3 minute pop songs, Bardo Pond makes a statement with the 8-18 minute pieces alone. It’s as though they are saying, “Slow down, pay attention. These things take time” Highlight songs include, “Moonshine”, “FCII”, “Lost World” and a stunning cover of the Beatles “Cry, Baby Cry”.
It is always a pleasant experience to hear a band you love continue to evolve and grow. Bardo Pond has recently released a flurry of small to microscopic independent discs on labels such as 3-Lobed and aRCHIVE. All of these releases are radically different so it’s hard to say if the Sollenberger as central-axis is a new direction or a passing experiment. Hopefully it’s a bit of both. Either way, Bardo Pond has released an amazing disc here. It is a set of challenging, eye-opening and beautiful music.