With albums like 2001’s great Dilate to their name, prolific Philadelphia rockers Bardo Pond have long been creating shoegazey, droney soundscapes coupled with pseudo apathetic vocals and lyrics. The band, known for their druggy psychedelia and album titles explicitly referencing drug use, now follow up their last effort, 2010’s bloated self-titled album, with the comparatively tighter Peace On Venus. A collection of five songs, it is best listened to start to finish, as it’s basically a 30-minute sound-piece with a five minute intermission (Fir) that prepares the way for what follows.
To start, Peace On Venus is like Bardo Pond’s artist statement; from the opening chords of first track Kali Yuga Blues, it is clear that this is a Bardo Pond record. Fuzzy guitars couple Isobel Sollenberger’s inimitable moan, the combination of which eventually fades into an echo, after which the guitars surface and glitch even further. Bardo Pond can be exhausting to listen to, but on Peace On Venus they’ve somehow found a way to naturalise their indulgences. Moreover, the title Kali Yuga Blues perfectly encapsulates the track’s sound. Kali yuga refers to the last of the four stages the world goes through according to Indian scripture. And the track sounds like some sort of apocalyptic ending, but the distorted, bluesy guitars and Sollenberger’s vocal affections supply the song with a sort of irreparable sadness. It’s an effective opener to an album whose five songs are all of substantial length but don’t succumb to excess.
Meanwhile, second track Taste, the shortest on the album, is five minutes long, consisting of reverb-laden flute and wailing guitars, but still seems like it’s the same length as the opener, covering the same sonic ground with less repetition. However, the first two tracks are really previews for third track Fir, which is reminiscent of True Widow, a newer band following in the grand tradition of Bardo Pond (in a darker manner). But what still separates Bardo Pond from the rest of the bunch is its lo-fi sound, its drumming not necessarily doomy but more spontaneous and all over the place. John and Michael Gibbons, the band’s two guitarists, battle on Fir; unlike, say, The National’s Dessner brothers, who aren’t just twins in appearance but in guitar playing style and sound, the Gibbons brothers are executing a sort of call and response on Fir while still bringing individual playing styles to the table.
The last two tracks, Chance and Before The Moon, both over 10 minutes long, bring back the flutes of Taste and seem like a sort of reprise. They bring Peace On Venus (which by this point in the album seems like an ironic title) full circle, combining the blues of the first track with the progressions of the second track. Listening to the album from start to finish, the standout is the blistering Fir. Whether Fir can be considered a true intermission or the main act – and the rest of the album actually a supporting act – Peace On Venus is arguably the band’s finest (half-)hour since Dilate. As with Low, it’s possible to hear how Bardo Pond has influenced today’s shoegaze and slowcore bands and still remained a vital force in a subgenre that always seems to stick around for the benefit of the fatalistic sad sack in us all.