As I've said before, I love when things get weird. Weird happens when some blelt in the cosmic engine slips and things go astray. Dearly departed composer of the weird Gyorgy Ligeti was big inot this. He liked his music to break down to fall apart, brilliantly exemplified in his "Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes" where he sets 100 timekeepers going and listens to what happens. Were he a snotty English coke addict with better hair, he could maybe get a Turner prize for antics like this, but the reward Gyorgy-Boy was seeking was the warp that generates from this. Order becomes disorder, cats play with dogs, sitcoms become funny and a thousand cartoon flowers bloom, seducing us with their toxic perfume.
You can't have all weird, all the time, because weird has built-in diminishing returns. All systems strive for equilibrium, so weirdness just makes the system work a little harder.
Bardo Pond is an exquisite collective sending out warps in the temporal weave from some ramshackle house in Philadelphia for about a decade now, and on their latest record, they have found some bleed over into the No-I'm-the-new-Black Sabbath hard rock ritual circuit. What saves them from being yet another Wah-pedal put in the wrong hands is the unfocused but ultimately ironclad algebra in their epic droney songs. "Destroying Angel" starts innocently enough with just an acoustic guitar strum, resolute as a eagle scout, quickly overcome by a ratty over-driven one. The Ozzy with their salvation is the sumptuously narcoleptic vocals and flute - yes flute - of Isobel Sollenberger. Her almost sing-song croon and cumulus fluting provide a vein running through what could be an incorrigible guitar mess, pumping life into every second.
"Isle" is a more pastoral affair, one which is a more traditional setting for flutes and acoustic guitars, and is he real lynchpin of the record. Unlike the bulk of the neo-noise ‚Äìfolk business floating around, where some John Fahey enthusiast coaxes his girlfriend and drug dealer to haul out their high school band instruments to make a happening, Bardo Pond has real communication in their ranks. Sollenberger's voice often stutters and delays like its worked through a pedal rack and it is transcendent, incredibly sad and beautiful. The line "I found the door... repeated over and over during its run could be construed as pushing things, but you look up and find her standing at one, beckoning you to come through. "Lost Word" brings out the dreaded temple bells, which can kill most psyche revisionists. Fortunately, the windchimes are taken down and the loping nocturnal breeze of the melody is allowed to flow through it.
What's the weirdest thing they could do at this point? A cover of The Beatles' "Cry Baby Cry" staying pretty true to the original with added tracers. One of the better Beatle covers in ages. "FCII" is essentially an 18-minute hypno-groove. One you might find annoying until you realize your girlfriend is dancing in circles in the middle of the room with her shirt off, and those kinds of results are difficult to dispute. "Moonshine" is a woody earthy Vu-drugstrum turned inside out by Isobel's multi-layered vocals. Her tone is completely beguiling, like that of Hugo Largo's Mimi Goese back in the day. "Endurance" ups the menace in the mix, some Tabasco in the bongwater, if you will, ending in the Speak-n-Spell collage and swinging chain hypnotizer "Montana Scara II." It is ironically not as lysergic as the more straight songs, but it provides an excellent runway for final departure.
Roots and Crowns
The word around the campfire is that Califone's Tim Rutili was about to hang it up when he heard Psychic TV's "The Orchid" on their rather placid midpoint between noise and disco album "Dream Less Sweet" and all of a sudden it all became clear to him. I say if Psychic TV is your lighthouse, you are headed for a rocky landing. Coming off the love-fest held for 2004's Heron King Blues, the band delivers a sweet, oddly positivist slice of sonic wizardy. Horns and odd percussion and little noises put together these beautiful songs. "Spider's House" almost doesn't seem like a song at all but instead a recombinant set of loops, a bassoon here, glockenspiel there but the whole thing comes together like a ship in a bottle when you pull the strings. The tad-standard guitar line in Sunday Noises" is subtly deconstructed by the insect choir of noises around it. "A Chinese Actor" does the same thing to a straight rock melody, electronic handclaps and odds-and-ends guitar scraps turn this tractor into a parade.
What strikes me on both these records is that they manage to fulfill the demon weed pop fantasies I feel the Beatles and Brian Wilson never could. Those two titans were caught up in too many other influences to really get there, wheras odd balls like these can craft their alchemy quietly in the cave. "Our Kitten sees Ghosts" is a prime example. It has a simple lullaby melody but the details and distortions surrounding it unravels it a little, let the light shine through the tent. "The Orchids" which inspired the record, is rendered as a beautiful, magnificent lotus of a ballad, almost sounding like the sweeter moments of the eels. I've often been struck that old Genesis p-Orridge of PTV was actually quite a great tunesmith when he gets away form destroying gender and cognition or whatever he's on about, and this loving tribute is proof.
The real weirdness comse in "Black Metal Valentine." I was hoping for some Gorogorth-meets-Incredible String Band infernal hoedown, but instead, this is the most unlikely Frankenstein soul ballad you will find. "Rose Petal Ear"'s slow burn cyclic banjo and handclaps are the sound you hear when you realize you've been horribly drugged and are about to have your organs harvested, sliding into the Americana luster of "3-Legged Animals." It seems that all psyche-influenced albums must go out on a drone, so the nostalgic patchwork of "If You Would" does the job nicely here. At one point an old upright piano seems to be keeping the fog at bay and Rutili's final transmission come sputtering in over a shortwave signal. It's a surprisingly touching way for this most curious of records to burn out, ashes floating off into the sky.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
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