It's time to add Bardo Pond to the list of bands that made an unexpectedly great album in 2006.
Yes, Bardo Pond, the same band that made my third favourite album of 2003 plus a couple dozen hours of East Coast hippie delights that currently clog my music collection. Despite all this, great bands don't always make great records. This particular band is great despite their patchiness, often succeeding through sheer force of volume (e.g. there's a very good album lying within a carefully edited set of "Dilate"'s 70-plus bloated minutes) or by sheer force of mood (e.g. the Tom Carter/Bardo collab is fairly boring, but is a useful listen if you're just chilling out with several hours to kill listening to music).
Until the release of "On the Ellipse", there weren't any truly outstanding Bardo Pond albums. They all had their fierce moments and their filler. "Lapsed" came closest -- their sound has never sounded so mammoth to this day -- but "Tommy Gun Angel" and "Flux" obliterate everything else on the album. Even if the overall level of quality is higher than their earlier albums, it's hard to think of an album as being great overall when it's highlights stick out that far above the mean. And with running times around 50 minutes, "Lapsed" and "On the Ellipse" are short records by a band that tends to indulge itself a bit too often. So when I heard that the new album was going to be 75 minutes, I wasn't expecting a second straight classic.
"Ticket Crystals" is a much looser album than "On the Ellipse", as Bardo Pond continue to come up with new ways to jam. The opener, "Destroying Angel", is the type of nine-minute guitar-revving monster that they can probably hammer out in their sleep by now. It's the type of track that made their last album so outstanding. "FC II" is a prog-dub marathon session that is usually reserved for their "Volume" collections of semi-improvised tracks, but very few of the tracks featured there are this good. "Father Jod" closes the record with a dizzy swirl of wailing, screeching guitars. Some people complain about the lazy, imprecise drumming on some Bardo Pond records, but intentionally or not, it feels as though the drummers arms are stuck in vats of oil here, making the beat lurch around like a drunken sailor (but in a good way -- think about PJ Harvey's "Goodnight" (even though there aren't any drums on it)).
They've never relied so much on acoustic and semi-acoustic elements on their albums, which suggests that their admiration for Charalambides (particularly this year's "A Vintage Burden") extends beyond asking Christina Carter to contribute guest vocals on "Ticket Crystals". I'm not quite sure where she sings on this record -- Bardo's traditional love of double-tracking Isobel's vocals makes it a bit difficult to tell -- but a good place to start is "Moonshine". Its wistful, starry-eyed psych-folk eventually explodes into a maelstrom of noise and back again. The gorgeous, sighing vocals might be the most hummable lines that Bardo Pond have ever done. In a similar vein, their semi-acoustic cover of the Beatles' "Cry Baby Cry" is another example of how they've collided singalong melodies with noisy improv, two elements of Bardo Pond's music that they usually keep separate.
They'll bust your ears apart -- but a bit more intimately this time. Bardo Pond have hit another home run with "Ticket Crystals", and I probably shouldn't doubt them the next time around.