What happened to the generation that is supposedly the owner of an unprecedented short attention span? Now bands that are crafting long, dense tunes are receiving both critical acclaim and commercial success. Ambient black metal band Sunn O))) has taken the indie press by storm, meditation-rockers Om are two albums into their career-long song(!), and endless feedbackers Growing are getting reviewed in Playboy, the New York Times and G-fucking-Q. Yep, slow and long are the new fast and short. And for Bardo Pond, this means that the rest of the world has finally caught on. Their new record, Ticket Crystals, clocking in at over 77 minutes, is their longest yet, and the one to most seriously incorporate acoustic guitars, sampling and atmospheric soundscapes. After over 15 isolated years spent in sprawling psychedelia, the critical tastes have changed and perhaps the time is ripe for Bardo Pond to achieve the greater recognition they’ve deserved.
Change is evident right from the album’s opener, “Destroying Angel.” It features the same Bardo Pond sounds – doomy guitar work, Isobel Sollenberger’s warm and charmingly unsure voice, steady and punishing low-end rhythm section, and drifting layered flutes – but their collective ear has metamorphosed at the mixing board. The guitars, bass and drums serve as the cohesive backdrop for Sollenberger, who is pushed into the foreground and delivers beautifully with a meditative and memorable melody. The middle of the song, which Bardo Pond usually reserves for a bass or guitar drone, is packed with stratified flute tracks that encircle the pensive listener like bats on a twilit gait through the woods. The vocals are then revived from the feedback ash and brought on the first melodic theme until the song’s completion.
Another standout track is the cover of the Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry,” recorded for the BBC to commemorate the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. Any hopeful notion of a spaced out, twenty-five minute psychfest are all for naught. This is easily the most traditional sounding song on the record – if not of their entire career. The band plows through the song note-for-note, hardly pressing their unique print on it at all until a final blast of feedback and samples. One wonders if they stayed the course as an attempt not to blaspheme, or if they have ambitions for using a more streamlined pop-rock approach in the future.
“FC II” is the album’s most visually illustrative track. 18-plus minutes of one bass line, with a few variations and assorted reverb ornamentations of violin, guitar and voice lead the listener on what seems like an inebriated journey as a passenger on a cheap and crowded midnight bus, lit by the annoying glare of city street lamps with seemingly no destination in sight, but to the apparent indifference of your co-travelers. I’d bet the house that it was written on tour.
Despite the standouts, Ticket, is hardly Bardo Pond’s best record. Some songs labor on a faulty point for a too extended period of time. “Moonshine” and “Isle” also feature Sollenberger more than in the past, but here she fails to deliver like on “Destroying Angel.” The album, however, solidifies Bardo Pond as one of the most consistently strong bands of the last 15 years, and should aid them in reaching new listeners who are willing to dive into such a lengthy work.
Jackie-O Motherfucker – Flags of the Sacred Harp
Flying Saucer Attack – Further
The Lilys – Eccsame the Photon Band