Bardo Pond

Shone Like A Ton / Refulgo (Reissues)

Legendary. Inspirational. Esoteric. Enigmatically cultish. Hypnotically mind-expanding. Too luminously brilliant to secure the wider recognition that’s justifiably deserved. Striding heftily through the far-out wilderness clad in robes of reverb and fluttering flares of distortion. Pursed lips pressed to the embouchure hole of an enchanted flute, like some psychedelic pied-piper leading swaying droves of mesmerised apostles in a kaleidoscopic conga to drown merrily in the hallucinogenic bong-water of cosmic ecstasy.

But that’s enough about me. Let’s talk about Bardo Pond.

If last year’s brief ‘n’ bruising Peace On Venus LP wasn’t long enough to keep your Bardo trip spinning forth into the sparkling ether, the reliably majestic Three Lobed label has set to work remastering and compiling the group’s earliest long-out-of-print recordings in typically fancy-ass sleeves. Unlike some of the band’s other self-recorded and self-released cassette albums, 1992’s Shone Like A Ton has never been reissued until now. Like Pavement’s Westing or that At The Drive-In record where Omar Rodríguez-López was still playing bass, the LP is a time-machine providing fascinating glimpse into the process of a band finding its feet.

An obvious reference point for Shone Like A Ton is Sonic Youth. ‘The Land Of Only’, for example, has that gloomily oppressive bass rumble that dominated SY tunes such as ‘Burning Spear’. To be fair though, the more delicate instrumental ‘Tarahumara’ seems to anticipate the Youth’s 2011 Simon Werner a Disparu soundtrack rather than derive from anything the hip New Yorkers had recorded by that moment in time. Anyhow, there is a barbed, punky no-wave mood to this LP that you won’t find on Bardo Pond’s fuzzily soothing later cuts. As per so many Bardo products, its longer numbers are the most rewarding. The charming twelve and a half minute ‘Luna Sway’ is like receiving a bumpy massage while riding through a melting Dalí desert in a non-prescription shopping-trolley with a tie-dyed pirate flag flying from the mast and at least one wonky wheel. Here the Pond give off that early Mercury Rev tang that had you asking, “is this the sound of a trip going really rather swimmingly, or one going very, very badly indeed?” The feedbacking skree-laden ‘Fox’ resembles a Dinosaur Jr bootleg from one of those gigs where they were just about to start punching each other on the nose. ‘Fox’ may have the added comedy bonus of some tripped-out spoken-word poetry about rabbits and foxes and foxes’ balls and stuff, but the repeated "crash, crash, crash" mantra on the subsequent closing noise-fest is just plain terrifying.

Archiving tracks originally released on rare 7" and random compilations, Refulgo is more recognisably BARDO POND. It is warmer, bluesier and (at the risk of sounding a bit pervy) a hell of a lot sexier. For one thing, the inimitable Isobel Sollenberger turns up as the proper Bardo frontperson/cult-leading goddess. She wails, chants, chirrups, mumbles and moans like, as Three Lobed put it, “mad Ophelia before she went into the river”. On the cracked and crackling Funkadelic-y ‘Jungle Tune’, she howls like an exhausted riot grrrl realist, exuding a calmer, sadder brand of repulsion into the cruel world of The Man. She carries with her that famous flute, injecting femininity into the Pond’s heavy grooves.

Meanwhile, the Gibbons brothers’ collaborative guitar work has now found its own unique, beautifully unkempt and out-there flavour. Molten, heavy blues on one track, audio tantric shamanism the next, I don’t know what the tides sound like on the most distant alien planets, but I hope for ET’s sake it sounds as beautifully cosmic as ‘Good Friday’. Somehow, the Gibbons’ walloping guitars are both heavy and gentle at the same time, even when plugged into whatever that ace pedal is that makes your amp sound like a really powerful rocket booster. Their distortion and feedback aren’t all spiky and peeved like on those early Sonic Youth tracks; they are big, snug, chunky, fluffy blankets that will swathe and protect you from all the horrible bad things outside. Tracks like ‘Affa’ or ‘Sangh Seriatim’ (all 22 minutes of it) are makeshift isolation tanks for audiophiles. Refulgo is brimming with these time-freezing, serotonin-releasing, pain-killing opuses that could jam on eternally and you wouldn’t even care. You’d just lie there in blissful enjoyment, soaking up those heady transcendental vibes.

I could float here forever.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today