Don’t listen to Bardo Pond’s six-song full length On the Ellipse while in the throws of a Valium-induced high, unless you want the feeling of weightlessness and never-ending feedback to remain with you for more than four hours. If ever there was a recording made solely for the purpose of laying back on the futon, full pack of smokes on hand, with the lights dimmed or candles burning in every corner, this would be it. Forget all that stuff you’ve heard about chill-out music compilations or early Pink Floyd records; On the Ellipse is the Great Equalizer.
Drone-psychedelic rock is Philly’s Bardo Pond’s thing. An ever-lingering sadness permeates the music explored by this American shoegazing lineup. An experiment in noise that rivals that of the band’s 2001 release Dilate, On the Ellipse buries effects and noisy guitars in an atmospheric density. “Dom’s Lament” is the sort of instrumental that can take you from that aforementioned room on the futon then scoot you off the couch for a trip to the local live music club. It’s a strange mix of the subdued and the aggressive.
Isobel Sollenberger sings her cryptic poetry as if through a filter of the Gossamer about which she muses on “JD”; she carries that ghost-like quality through the songs “Every Man,” “Walking Clouds” and “Night of Frogs.” Though “dreamy” has been used many times to describe this quintet, there is no better cliche from which to borrow. Spacey, dreamy, float-y and downright hypnotic are perfectly acceptable descriptions. It’s the guitar work of Michael and John Gibbons that throws the loops and shimmers through On the Ellipse, but it’s also the echoing background vocals that immediately pull the listener into this otherworldly sound.
It is difficult to objectively critique a release by Bardo Pond; the band’s live shows are intense, heart-stopping performances that make you close your eyes hard, just to catch every little nuance in each chord and effect. Few bands live up to their live shows on record, and Bardo Pond is one such animal. To truly appreciate the music, it is almost necessary to hear it live. Of its numerous releases, On the Ellipse, the band’s sixth proper full length, comes the closest to proving Bardo Pond’s mettle off-stage. And for that reason, it is a superb recording.