You can learn a lot about Bardo Pond through their choice of covers. Their renditions of “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic, “The Creator Has a Master Plan” by Pharoah Sanders and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” by Roxy Music reflect a group that plays the game long, valuing slow builds and subtle climaxes. It also reveals an obsession with first-rate mind expansion: While drug references litter the song titles and albums of the Philadelphia-based psychedelic rock band, they are treated in a non-cloying way. Amanita muscaria, the mushroom that gave the title to their 1996 album, has both poisonous and hallucinogenic properties. The implication is clear, but no exaggerated imagery appears on the album cover, and the proselytizing lyrics don’t explode you with mycological plea, either. The music is drugs, Bardo Pond convincingly insinuates.
While some of Bardo Pond’s many albums tend towards a monolithic buzz-drone, Amanita, which is being reissued on vinyl for its 25th anniversary, presents the band in its most dynamic aspect. As guitarist Michael Gibbons notes, “Amanita was a manifesto of everything we were trying to do. It was really a model for everything we did later … There were songs, but they were still rooted in our base of free improvisation. Basically, Bardo Pond are minimalists who maximize their limited range of sounds. Most of their songs move with unmoved grandeur, the guitars of brothers John and Michael Gibbons accumulating dense masses of down and losing rigorously sculpted scree, evoking an electric storm above clouds of mushroom rising. at quarter speed. Singer / flautist Isobel Sollenberger essentially turns her voice into a second flute: her singing, which often resembles muffled howls in a tornado, acts as a carrier of ineffable feelings, as touching and ethereal as her instrument. Bassist Clint Takeda and drummer Joe Culver provide a deceptively alluring undertow, though their efforts are usually subsumed by the Gibbons’ electric guitar tricks.
The bugle call introducing AmanitaThe 10-minute “Limerick” opening prepares you for a memorable experience. The Gibbons brothers intertwine their timbral gradients and unifying sound with melody in a solemn display of fraternal telepathy. What is often overlooked about Bardo Pond, however, is how sultry their sound is, due to Takeda and Culver’s subliminal rhythms and Sollenberger’s watermark of the higher frequencies. Speaking of which, “The High Frequency” is the top of the album. After a false start, the band locks themselves into a groove and the rhythm section creates a feeling of happiness on the magic carpet that sounds as loose and casually trippy as “Flying” by The Beatles.
Music on Amanita often emphasizes the carnal side of Bardo Pond. “Tantric Porno” is one of the sweetest tracks from their vast discography. This is one of the few songs that the bass at least partially takes the lead in, its methodical ripples lending a mellow thrill to the root chakra. “Rumination” follows a similar path, exuding an eerie desolation before blossoming into a familiar, gnarly Gibbons bro guitar duel. “Wank,” meanwhile, is lustful in his woozy, stoner-rock way, Culver turning into an alpha male leg on his kit.
The relatively upbeat “Sentence” might be the Bardo Pond closest to the indie-rock convention, with the lead guitar squealing near Stephen Malkmus. A core of a college radio hit lurks beneath gigantic, bass-driven boluses of guitar and hazy, saggy vocals, and the lyrics – “Collarbone figure Eights / Sentenced to a life in the ocean” – exemplify Elliptical thoughts of Sollenberger.
This edition’s bonus tracks, “Clean Sweep” and “Brambles”, are striking anomalies. The former moves through Slint-like passages of menacing tension and brief bursts of raging noise rock while the latter is a wavering funk-rock song that steadily gains in impact and chaos. This kind of fractional dynamics rarely surface in this most balanced rock unit.
After relative commercial success with Liz Phair and Pavement and a partnership with Atlantic Records, Matador offered the luxury of taking risks on groups with low commercial potential like Bardo Pond in the mid-90s. The iconic independent label has was quickly rewarded with Amanita, one of the most beautiful releases of the group and worthy of this remastered and augmented edition on two purple vinyl tiles. The label also plans to reissue the group’s three other Matador tracks and a compilation of rarities. For a group that has built up a surplus of adulation and credibility in the years since, this sounds like a karmic victory.
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