Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Year in Music: Bardo Pond - Under The Pines

Bardo Pond
Under The Pines

Longtime Philly psych vets Bardo Pond generally operate in primordial ingredients – brothers Gibbons' guitars scrape earth and sky, with occasional vocals and flute blowing in on the wind from frontwoman Isobel Sollenberger, all anchored by the wandering, trenchant rhythm section, shifting-yet-solid, a slow-motion tremor. Stoner rock doesn't sum up the parts; and "heavy" is too nice 'n pretty – Bardo Pond songs aren't born – rather, they seem to crawl up from ooze and just as often melt into the ether.

Under The Pines continues to distill their wall-of-sound in more concise fashion following 2013's similarly taut-yet-expansive Peace On Venus. The recording, done again homestyle, clarifies some of the murk, and places Sollenberger's vocals on near-equal footing with the guitars. A few heads rolled or roiled, I'm sure, but her mix of summoning squall and brooding chant operate here as an equal – so it's refreshing to hear that represented in the mix, not to mention the songs.

"Crossover" opens the record in classic Bardo Pond form – you fall right into a lead riff before going for a bit of a near-Zep turnaround. Sollenberger enters and all is well – this is classic rock for the psych set, guitars hard-panned and dueling in sprawling, painterly fashion. It's almost hard to believe you haven't heard this song before; though at a tidy five minutes, thirty seconds, it doesn't go on forever.

We get other Pond tropes, here, too – "Out Of Reach" is a slow, heavy dirge with a sparkling intro solo. The skies clear when Sollenberger enters, as guitars set to sparkle around the edges. The wordless chorus hints at the storm to come. Minutes pass, and guitars expand, rhythm section takes up more space unnoticed, like a glacier climbing down the mountain lip-first. Just when you expect them to wash away with the storm, they kick into double-time – a Hawkwind-ian or kraut-touch; or just masterly improv? Whatever. The Gibbons are set free here, and it all enters fog machine mode, an aural moss covering all ground, Sollenberger's chants occasionally piercing through the haze like mottled beams of light.

There are a couple miniatures – maybe excerpts from lengthy recordings? – "My Eyes Out" ends side A with a keening lead guitar that loops gaudily over a steady, forged-metal rhythm. The solo enters halfway through and they ride it into the clouds. "Under The Pines" is as close to scorched-earth blues as we get – a dark take on time or mortality, or maybe the upside-down version of folk standard "In The Pines". It's syrupy and stomping and slow, barometer rising, air thick.

"Moment To Moment" embraces a riff that's nearly from the front-porch, of a kin to Earth's take on country-doom (2008's The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull). Yet, with acoustic slide, it's bizarrely anthemic, it's crawling, muscular pace and near 10-minute length could qualify. We finally get Sollenberger's flute here, which floats in gauzily, but ends up carrying things across rippling sheets of guitar and torch-bearing, keening vocals.

"Effigy" provides an instrumental benediction to the record – and a welcome second flute appearance – a melancholy, tripped-out shuffle that's a counterpunch to the swagger of "Crossover". It's comfortable, richly textured, and conjures a wide vista of sound, that (I loathe to say) could even lure in a 'post-rock' fan or three. Somebody please pay these fine folks to score their film (did they do that before and I missed it? The price of an extensive discography). 

No comments:

Post a Comment