I've got this friend who has this theory about the indie-rock jam band, how they're nothing more than hippies in thrift-store disguise. At first all I could do was disagree, but after thinking about it a little, is there anything wrong with this?
The indie-rock jam band can let loose with 15-minute improvised solos and think nothing of having songs with no words and fans eat it up. These are bands who are one step away from playing (or have already played) at festivals like Bonnaroo. Can you smell the patchouli in the air? If you could imagine hearing one of these bands as the soundtrack to your own personal planetarium show, you're probably on the right track.
Sonic Youth could be the new Grateful Dead. The Flaming Lips hey, they're up for a Jammy award this year (really, I couldn't make that up). Or Built to Spill. Tortoise. Wilco. For historical purposes, the Velvet Underground. And Bardo Pond they are well on their way to being the next Phish. Just wait and see.
Don't fret! This does not make you a hippie. On the contrary, maybe you're just putting the hip back in hipster! Capturing the hipster ears and hearts of young and old jam-band fans alike, Bardo Pond's On the Ellipse is another great release from one of my favorite bands.
Bardo Pond recently parted ways with Matador Records and released their latest album, and sixth proper full-length, on Barry Hogan's All Tomorrow's Parties label. And while it isn't worlds away from such recent releases as 2001's Dilate or 1999's Set and Setting, it's an album that fans of the band will want to hear.
A lot of people would describe Philadelphia-based Bardo Pond's sound as psychedelic and it is, but there's more to it than that. Their music is simultaneously subtle and complicated. It's noisy, yet quiet. And when its swirling guitars wash over you, you'll be lost in their sound before you know it.
"JD" with its somber yet compelling violin solo opens the album. It sits on the edge, ready to descend into something noisier, but Isobel Sollenberger's slow, haunting vocals keep things steady. When she sings, "You're always there/ Black of night/ Gossamer light/ Out of the corners/ Of my eyes," it reminds me of the cold Philadelphia nights we've been experiencing. But then the rest of the band chimes in currently, guitarists/ brothers Michael and John Gibbons, bassist Clint Takeda, and drummer Ed Farnsworth and I remember it's winter and it's got to be cold at least some of the time.
"JD," like much of Bardo Pond's other work, walks this fine line between melody and mania. A lot of the lyrics for these songs touch upon aspects of this physical world we call home. Night and day, light and dark, the sun and stars you get the idea. Yet it's almost as if the lyrics are really just the conduit for the music. And somehow it works the discordant guitar and drums, the occasional flute, and the poetic lyrics give these songs texture and complexity, making their overall sound more important than the lyrics themselves. It's this abstraction that makes this album so compelling.
"Dom's Lament," the shortest song at just less than seven minutes, doesn't need the lyrics to pull you in. It's somehow sad and hopeful all at the same time, a glorious and noisy affair. You might even feel sorry for Dom in the end.
The closing track, "Night of Frogs," starts off slowly, bragging of speed and our wondrous solar system, but reaches a fabulous droning crescendo that makes me want to play the album again. And every time I do that, I pick up on another layer of sound or some nuance I didn't hear before.