A quiet series of acoustic chords ushers in Bardo Pond’s sixth-full length, the first notes of “Destroying Angel” modestly melancholy and thoughtful. Half a second later comes the monstrous, vibrating drone, the scattershot drumfills, the pure volume-charged chaos of primal possibility. Above it all, Isobel Sollenberger keens and moans in some sort of ghost-raising tribal ceremony. The cut, long a staple of Bardo Pond’s live show, is as wild and dangerous and beautiful as music can be, the kind of thing you can fall into backward and never fully return.
In its combination of pristine folk, spiraling dissonance and otherworldly deliverance, the song is, in some ways, a microcosm for Ticket Crystals an album that alternates between tranquility and swirling maelstroms of sound. It happens between, and within, nearly every track. Even fluid, flute-embellished cuts like “Isle,” roil with suppressed discord, the rumble of feedback percolating through hauntingly pretty vocals. Heck, even the Beatles cover “Cry Baby Cry” dissolves into psychedelic sturm and drang as soon as the verse/chorus gives out. The monolithically loud and the delicately beautiful aren’t even juxtaposed—they are, in some essential sense, exactly the same thing.
The album balances long improvisatory cuts with shorter, more conventional songs. The epic “FC II”, builds slowly out of discordant bowed sounds, picking up a distant drum beat a minute or two in, then adding radiant space-charting guitar notes. Slowly, the piece develops, not so much exploring new territories as feeling out all the crevices and corners of its locked-in sound. It goes on for more than 18 minutes, moving patiently, meditatively, unhurriedly forward. Yet while the changes are gradual, and the track time long, it isn’t ever boring. It is, in fact, mesmerizing at the lizard brain level.
“Lost World,” at about a third the length, is a wholly different experience, built on minimally limned acoustic guitar chords, the jangle of bells and Sollenberger’s plaintive voice. More pastoral, less electrified, the cut nonetheless vibrates with dissonance, voices layered in close-note conflict, scrapes and buzzes of feedback harsh in the background. It is like a beautiful, somewhat frightening dream, where you intuit danger even though everything seems calm.
The album closes with the sample-laden “Montana Sacra II” where an insistent two-note guitar pattern nearly obscures a series of muttered words. Squalls of feedback gather and recede, at times overwhelming, at other times sinking into the background. The cut is troubling and gorgeous. It has the same feel as Sonic Youth’s “Providence” or certain Mogwai tracks, the music casting a ritual gloss on half-heard, ordinary language.
Now 16 years into its life as a band, Bardo Pond has acted as benign godfather to scenes as disparate as freak folk, drone and psychedelic metal. Here, you see all these kinds of music flowing into and around and among each other. The lovely intertwined with the grotesque, the loud with the delicate, the folk-centric with the experimental, Ticket Crystals is all about opposites in harmony. It swoops down on you like the destroying angel of its title cut, so beautiful and so disturbing that you can hardly bear to look at it.