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Michael Collins, of Salvia Plath.
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Salvia Plath

The Bardo Story

(Domino; US: 9 Jul 2013; UK: 15 Jul 2013)

Let’s get this out of the way first. Salvia Plath, the recording moniker of Baltimore artist Michael Collins, is rather a silly band name. Run DMT, the name he previously used before the other Run DMT, a dubstep outfit, threatened him with a lawsuit, is also dumb. Run DMT’s recorded output included Bong Voyage, Get Ripped or Die Trying, and, most recently, Dreams. Each of these titles calls to mind a ramshackle sort of psychedelia, goofy but not novelty music, entirely at home on the schedule for a college open mic—or an opening bill for the Butthole Surfers a generation or two ago. That’s not altogether inaccurate. With The Bardo Story, a 32-minute weed-addled haze, it’s pretty much what you get.


That Collins has developed a knack for speedy psych-pop melodies only helps matters, naturally. With lushly multitracked backing harmonies and a circular acoustic progression, “Phased” conjures the lighter side of the Elephant 6 collective; the pretty, rollicking “This American Life” is even better, galvanized by equally sweet “ah” vocals, handclaps, wah-wah accompaniment, and one of Collins’ most confident lead vocals to date. With sleeker production, it’d be fodder for a fast food commercial—but who wants that? (Not Collins, I don’t think.)


On most other tracks, Collins’ voice—when employed at all—arrives fuzzy and worn, as if sung through a wool sweater in a tile-floored bathroom. This suits “Salvia Plath”, a lazily stoned Ariel Pink homage, fairly well, though lethargic numbers like the Eastern-tinged “Bardo States” and the misnomer “Hidden Track” could do with a shot of adrenaline. Better is “Stranded”, an old-timey whistling-and-humming dispatch from a ‘60s spaghetti western soundtrack; the ‘60s is the era “House of Leaves”, a lazily strummed slice of guitar-pop, also immediately conjures.


Roughly a third of Bardo Story is taken up by Collins’ penchant for drifting sonic experiments and interludes. Some are better than others. “Last Night At The Theatre” combines spidery guitar pitches with shaky keyboards for what sounds like a low-budget cartoon soundtrack, while the aforementioned “Stranded”, a wordless and eerie detour, is one of the album’s best. But “Pondering” drags along for what seems like forever (okay, three minutes) on ocean effects and a tremolo bar, and “Carly’s Theme”, with its organ riff and vocal wails, leaves little more impression.


The Bardo Story is an appealing shot of homespun psychedelia. With a producer, maybe Collins could be great. Or maybe it’d ruin him. I’m not sure.

Rating:

Zach Schonfeld is an associate editor for PopMatters and a reporter for Newsweek. Previously, he was an editorial fellow at The Atlantic Wire and graduated from Wesleyan University, birthplace of Das Racist, MGMT, and the nineteenth-century respiration calorimeter, where he served as the editor of Wesleying, a popular student-life blog. In his spare time, he enjoys visiting presidential birthplaces and teaching his dog to tweet. In addition to PopMatters, his writing has appeared online at Rolling Stone, TIME, Consequence of Sound, The Nation, USA Today College, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Rumpus, Paste Magazine, and the Hartford Courant. He can be reached at zschonfeld(at)gmail(dot)com or on Twitter @zzzzaaaacccchhh.


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