Bardo Pond

On the Ellipse

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AllMusic Review by

Another triumph, Bardo Pond's On the Ellipse proves that the band doesn't have to drastically change their music from album to album to keep it sounding fresh. Much like their former labelmates Mogwai, they continue to top themselves even if they're no longer among the most fashionable vanguard of underground rock. This album, Bardo Pond's sixth proper full-length, manages to be more abstract than 2001's Dilate, but it's just as accessible as that album, emphasizing the beauty of Isobel Sollenberger's vocals and flutes, as well as the restrained power of the band's formidable guitars and rhythm section. On the Ellipse is a much moodier experience, however, with most of its six songs hovering on the edge of reflective sadness and something darker. The outstanding album opener "JD" is an instant career highlight. Beginning with a relentless drone that switches between harsh and beautiful as it unfurls, the song lures the listener with five minutes of gentle acoustic guitars and Sollenberger's dreamy, brooding singing before unleashing a quintessentially Bardo Pond onslaught of distortion and drums. It's true that this description applies to most of the album -- and, indeed, most of the band's catalog -- but Pond remains the master of finding different ways to use extreme dynamics. "Dom's Lament" subtly shifts from quiet to loud while exploring the textures of its silken flutes, craggy guitars, and the quietly crisp drumming that holds it all together. The radiant, vaguely Indian "Test" floats on dense clouds of guitars and distant but powerful drums, lending it a beautiful but somewhat apocalyptic feel. "Every Man," a seven-minute epic, follows the more usual subdued brooding/slow-burning noise formula of the band's work, but the spare loveliness of its quiet sections and the washes of flutes in its louder parts reaffirm that nobody does stoned melancholy better than Pond. While the last third of On the Ellipse isn't as strong as the rest of the album, the post-modern hippie atmospherics of "Walking Clouds" and the dense, dour "Nights of Frogs" -- which recalls the band's Lapsed-era work -- don't detract from its hypnotic pull. While this album isn't radically different from the rest of Pond's work, the fact that it offers more of their compelling, challenging music is reason enough to celebrate it.

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