BARDO POND: UNDER THE PINES (2017)
1) Crossover; 2) Out Of Reach; 3) My Eyes Out; 4) Moment To Moment; 5) Under The Pines; 6) Effigy.
You don't have to take my word for it, but does it look like these guys are getting... old? Or, at least, kind of mellowing out in their own Bardo Pond kind of way. After all, they are past their 25th year of functioning as a band; if anything, they should be having a mid-life crisis these days, or, at least, doing whatever it is one has to do when one's formula has essentially stayed the same for over twenty-five years and it's time to make yourself vulnerable to critical assaults. The good news is, most of these critics weren't exactly spending their last twenty years relistening to Amanita every night; the bad news is, most of them have zero interest picking up an old-fashioned psychedelic album by a band that still pleads allegiance to the Nineties.
My impression is colored by two observations. One, that even on the longest tracks of this overall short album Bardo Pond sound somewhat less dense and even more «shallow» than they used to. Two, that all the tracks except for the last one are completely dominated by Isobel Sollenberger's vocals (and, to a lesser extent, her flute playing) — she very rarely abandons her vocalizing, giving the whole thing a far more peaceful and meditative sheen than usual. Indeed, the very title suggests the idea of meditative relaxation deep in the forest, and somehow, the textures of the album largely agree with that idea. Distortion, feedback, reverb, sludge, heavy tones, multiple overdubs, everything that makes Bardo Pond sound like themselves is still here, but instead of the feeling of a psychedelic storm, this all helps create a feeling of psychedelic calm now. I guess it mostly has to do with their selection of tones now, and with the guitarists' careful avoidance of «sharp» chord changes and chaotic sound peaks.
In fact, if you strip some of these jams down to the bare essentials, what you might get is... a nice little folk-and-country record! There's a thin, but very well noticeable acoustic melody underlying ʽMoment To Momentʼ which is nothing if not straightahead country-pop — along the lines of, say, mid-Seventies Dylan of the Pat Garrett variety, or Willie Nelson, if you like. Do not be fooled by the distorted woman-tone of the guitar, or all the echo layers, or how shamanistic Isobel gets towards the end of the track, it's really just an old country piece here, psychedelized for those who still prefer listening to music under chemical influence. And then the title track actually begins with acoustic chords, before moving into the usual territory of cross-locking distorted guitars; and even then, Isobel's voice rises quite distinctly above the din rather than being buried in it — as if they actually wanted you to make out the words, about how she's so happy to be lying down under the pines and other meditative stuff.
The bottomline is that, even though Bardo Pond can live about as much time without sludgy distortion and heavy sustain as the average human can live without oxygen, Under The Pines is still one of their mellowest offerings to date, and I guess it's kinda cool: it properly reflects their real moods and states of mind as they gradually age. They do not want to raise the ruckus and bring down the roof any longer, just to show their tiny handful of fans that they can still kick ass the same way they did it in the mid-Nineties. Instead, they use their old bag of tricks and their accumulated experience to create a subtly different atmosphere — and it is pretty much irrelevant how well you, the listener, can relate to that atmosphere, because it is unlikely that they are creating this music for anybody but themselves, really. Personally, I enjoyed the experience, and happily accept the fact that tomorrow I will forget that this record ever existed — but there's nothing whatsoever to blame the band for, as it remains more than adequate to itself.