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Bardo Pond - Amanita (25th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews

Bardo Pond - Amanita (25th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews
Reissued for its 25th anniversary, this dynamic and momentous release from the Philadelphia rock band features some of their highest peaks.

You can learn a lot about Bardo Pond from their choice of cover songs. Their interpretations of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” and Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” reflect a group who play the long game, valuing slow builds and subtle climaxes. It also reveals an obsession with mind expansion of the highest order: While drug references litter the Philadelphia-based psychedelic rock band’s song and album titles, they’re handled in a non-cloying manner. Amanita muscaria, the mushroom after which their 1996 album is titled, has both poisonous and hallucinogenic properties. The implication is clear, but no over-the-top images appear on the album cover, nor do proselytizing lyrics blast you with mycological advocacy. The music is the drug, Bardo Pond convincingly insinuate.

While some of Bardo Pond’s many albums tend toward a monolithic buzz-drone, Amanita, which is being reissued on vinyl for its 25th anniversary, displays the band at their most dynamic. As guitarist Michael Gibbons notes, “Amanita was a manifesto of everything we were trying to do. It was really a template for everything we did later... There were songs, but they were still rooted in our free-improv base.” At their core, Bardo Pond are minimalists who maximize their limited range of sounds. Most of their songs move with a stolid grandeur, with brothers John and Michael Gibbons’ guitars accruing dense masses of fuzz and loosing rigorously sculpted scree, conjuring an electrical storm above mushroom clouds rising at one-quarter speed. Vocalist/flautist Isobel Sollenberger essentially turns her voice into a second flute: Her singing, which often seems like muffled howls in a tornado, acts as a conveyor of ineffable feelings, as affecting and ethereal as her instrument. Bassist Clint Takeda and drummer Joe Culver provide a deceptively seductive undertow, though their efforts usually get subsumed by the Gibbons’ towers of electric guitar.

The clarion call introducing Amanita’s 10-minute opener “Limerick” prepares you for a momentous experience. The Gibbons brothers intertwine their timbral gradients and unifying noise with melody in a solemn display of fraternal telepathy. What often gets overlooked about Bardo Pond, though, is how sensuous their sound is, due to Takeda and Culver’s subliminally prodding rhythms and Sollenberger’s filigreeing of the higher frequencies. Speaking of which, “The High Frequency” is the album’s peak. After a false start, the band locks into a groove and the rhythm section creates a sense of magic-carpet-riding bliss that sounds as loose and nonchalantly trippy as the Beatles’ “Flying.”

The music on Amanita often emphasizes Bardo Pond’s carnal side. “Tantric Porno” stands as one of the sweetest cuts in their vast discography. It’s one of the few songs on which the bass at least partially takes the lead, its methodical undulations lending a mellow frisson in the root chakra. “Rumination” follows a similar path, exuding an eerie desolation before blooming into a familiar, gnarly Gibbons bro guitar duel. “Wank,” meanwhile, is lascivious in its woozy, stoner-rock way, with Culver shifting into an alpha-male strut on his kit. 

The relatively sprightly “Sentence” might be the closest Bardo Pond ever came to indie-rock conventionality, with the lead guitar squealing in the vicinity of Stephen Malkmus. A kernel of a college-radio hit lurks beneath the mammoth, down-tuned boluses of guitar and blurred, stoned vocals, and the lyrics—“Collarbone figure eights/Sentenced to a lifetime in the ocean”—exemplify Sollenberger’s elliptical thoughts.

The bonus tracks on this edition, “Clean Sweep” and “Brambles,” are striking anomalies. The former moves through Slint-like passages of ominous tension and brief spurts of rampaging noise rock while the latter is a lurching funk-rock song that steadily gains impact and chaos. These sorts of fractious dynamics rarely surface in this most even-keeled of rock units.

After relative commercial success with Liz Phair and Pavement and a partnership with Atlantic Records, Matador had the luxury of taking risks on low-commercial-potential acts like Bardo Pond in those mid-’90s boom times. The iconic indie label was quickly rewarded with Amanita, one of the band’s grandest releases and one worthy of this remastered and expanded edition on two slabs of purple vinyl. The label also plans to reissue the group’s three other Matador titles and a rarities comp. For a band who have accumulated a surplus of adulation and cred in the intervening years, it feels like a karmic victory.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Bardo Pond - Amanita (25th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews Bardo Pond - Amanita (25th Anniversary Edition) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, October 18, 2021 Rating: 5

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