There has been endless chatter recently about the “divided America.” Supposedly the people of this great country can’t agree on a goddamn thing: red states vs. blue states, Yankees vs. Red Sox, hybrids vs. SUVs. The list goes on.
And on and on … like a Bardo Pond jam. These Philly-based psychedelic stalwarts have been a divisive force on the independent music scene for the past decade and a half. Not because of their political affiliations, but because, well, it helps to be really fucking high when listening to them. The difference between gratuitous wankery and transcendent cosmic bliss is often the difference between sobriety and three huge bong hits.
Maybe it’s not that simple, but wrapping up complex arguments into self-satisfied sound-bites is the order of the day, so let’s just roll with it. Selections Volumes I-IV is more than two hours of self-recorded, previously self-released Bardo Pond material, and as such it is a goldmine for lovers of improvisational droning and jamming. The tracks spread out over these two discs have no beginning or end, and the tracks contained within are seemingly arbitrary selections from an eternity’s worth of hallucinogenic exploration.
For those only marginally familiar with Bardo Pond (perhaps as a result of seeing the band open for Sonic Youth, Mogwai, or Godspeed You! Black Emperor), the first disc is a good place to enter. Tracks such as opener “Sit Sleep,” “Alien Heat” and “Before” mine much of the same territory the band’s live shows and recent studio LPs do: It’s heavy, lugubrious rock anchored by a solid rhythm section over which the brothers Gibbons deconstruct simple guitar riffs while vocalist/violinist/flutist Isobel Sollenberger (a pin-up for the stoner-psych crowd if there ever were one) adds an extra layer of far-away ethereal wail.
The fifteen-minute blast of increasingly blistering guitar skree on the first disc’s “Montana Sacra” sets the stage for the second disc, which covers much of the same terrain but in an even looser, more spontaneous fashion. “Lomand” features effects-drenched guitar draped over a simple repeating refrain until expanding into free-noise infinity, and “New Drinks” takes a classic-rock-ready riff and slows it way down while Sollenberger wails overtop. The result is like Royal Trux if they had risen from the ashes of Amon Duul instead of Pussy Galore.
According to my notes, closer “Pangolin Dance” is a “guitar/effects duet in which video-game consoles are made to face each other, given drugs, and told to have a conversation.” Do with that what you will. And, please, in the interests of uniting a splintered independent music scene, get high and meet the members of Bardo Pond on their own terms. They are boring only if you want them to be.