an you take me back where I came from? / Can you take me back?” one of Bardo Pond’s men listlessly moans into the microphone. A squalling guitar racket and snare drum smacks nearly cover his voice. The band obscures those closing verses in their cover of the Beatles’ “Cry Baby Cry” on Ticket Crystals. Yet, Bardo Pond’s take on “Cry” could be mistaken for a 90’s alt-rock hit. The elements that made the Stone Temple Pilots, Oasis, and Live rich are there: jangling, acoustic blues riffs that drag up dust along a country road, beats that lazily kick rocks into a river, and vocalist Isobel Sollenberger’s weary, murmuring tone. However, Bardo Pond’s trademark showers of intoxicated guitar distortion and gutbucket blues riffs still kick in after they tell John Lennon’s fairy tale, and then plea to go home. It’s the same sound that they dove into more than a decade ago and apparently never want to leave.
On Ticket, Bardo Pond’s sixth album in 11 years, they prove to still be one of psych rock’s most striking bands. As on previous records, they force listeners to hold onto pieces of driftwood that inevitably carry them out to sea. Michael and John Gibbons’ guitar work and Clint Takeda’s basslines suffocate and overload the mind with dirty, glowing riffs that sprawl for miles on end. Even during Sollenberger ‘s calm moments of butterfly chasing, the band’s noise still interrupts and shoves the listener’s head into the water. The total effect can be addictive and seductive for evoking an uncanny sensation of weightlessness.
For the first time on a Bardo Pond album, Sollenberger is the center. The band usually used her waif sigh and flute harmonies as mere textures. She was nearly imperceptible at times, but gave a refreshing human presence during her best moments. This time, her vocals are not lost in the mix and often take on an eerie, disembodied nature to great effect. Two Sollenbergers finish each other’s verses in a dizzying rhythm on the enchanted buzz-pop jaunt, “Moonshine.” On “Lost World,” the band bats around her murmurings amid clanging wind chimes and backwards-looped guitar notes that flicker like sunlight through fence cracks seen during a car ride. Unfortunately, her vocals are speed bumps in the band’s formulaic, Led Zep-aping dirge, “Destroying Angel,” and the otherwise great nod-rocker, “Endurance.”
Ticket’s two instrumental cuts are Bardo Pond at their strongest and weakest. “FC II” is 18 minutes of bliss and best played while driving across a vast, moonlit grassland. Takeda’s brooding dub bassline keeps the sun down while the Gibbons’ melodies emerge like streetlights on the horizon. Ed Farnsworth anchors the band with a steady snare clack during their space flight that glides without any peaks or ebbs in momentum. The band closes Ticket with the hollow jam, “Montana Sacra II.” They improvised over a screening of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surrealistic film Holy Mountain but sound instead like somebody stabbed them in their stomachs and threw them in a gutter. The band builds from an awkward, two-note guitar riff and then lumbers into a horrorshow dirge. Scraps of dialogue from the movie are barely heard in the sludge, and sound like a TV set was accidentally left on during the recording. A great opportunity squandered.
I’ve admired Bardo Pond for a decade, and Ticket shows that they can take their formula to places with more sunlight and better air. Yet, I fear that those lyrics, “Can you take me back where I came from? / Can you take me back?” are carved in stone for the future.
Reviewed by: Cameron Macdonald
Reviewed on: 2006-06-28