This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. And this is your brain on Bardo Pond. The Philadelphia quintet is touring behind its fourth album, Set and Setting, which, like the band's name, comes from Timothy Leary's addled reworking of the Tibetan Book of the Dead in his acid user's manual, The Psychedelic Experience. Masters of mind-melt, the group is guaranteed to drain your brain pan more efficiently than anything since those creepy, flying cerebellum suckers in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But while they may be the most experimental (a la Sonic Youth) of any of the musicians in the burgeoning Stoner Rock movement, they are no arty-fartsy avant-garde lightweights.
Since 1995's Bufo Alvarius (which was named for a species of South American toad that secretes an hallucinogenic substance through its skin) and 1996's masterful Amanita (an obscure Indian psychoactive said to instill the user with the power of telepathy), the Bardos have been moving steadily toward Black Sabbath stomp-and-grind rhythms. The latter provide an even more effective contrast with the hypnotizing guitar riffs and occasional bursts of beautiful melody from flutist and vocalist Isobel Sollenberger. Says band leader and auteur Michael Gibbons: "Faeries Wear Boots is the anthem! We've always been about the riff. I can't stand it when some people write about us like we're noodley."
No, there's precious little wankery with this band, even on epic workouts like "Datura," which, like the rest of Set and Setting, was leisurely recorded at a new home studio in between what must have been many, many hits on the bong. Yet in the tradition of the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" or Can's great psychedelic jams, the Bardos never sacrifice the primal rock pulse. And they remain intensely focused while probing the darkest regions of the cosmos and/or your psyche -- sorta like a lobotomy drill to the forehead.
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