Bardo Pond's music best soars into the vast expanses of untapped head space when you're lying flat on your back, say, with a cat on your chest and a bad spring cold. (The band even goes so far as to sell hand-printed Bardo Pond pillowcases.) But be warned: This is not music to sleep to. The band's reputation as Philly's noisiest act is well earned -- and lived up to on Dilate, its fifth album. And while some say it helps to be in an altered state of consciousness while listening, it's not necessary: On their own, Bardo Pond's soundscapes work on the neurons so effectively they could prompt a DEA investigation.
What makes Dilate a unique album? Chiefly the unprecedented dynamic range. Isobel Sollenberger's voice -- previously hidden deep in the mix -- is brought to the forefront while the churning guitar noises produced by brothers John and Michael Gibbons move from their usual window-rattling volume to a subterranean rumble. Best of all, Bardo Pond isn't afraid to pump up the acoustic elements, including guitar, violin and flute. This combination makes it sound as if the next-door neighbors are throwing their own noise festival while a ghost whispers riddles in your ear.
Dilate opens gently with "Two Planes," which features a near-comatose guitar strum backed by a methodical violin. By the time the purposeful drumming kicks in, lending an air of ballad-like importance to the collage of sound, you'd do well to surrender the next 74 minutes to the destructive feedback that arrives like a pair of renegade F-16s. On "Sunrise," you have the feeling that Isobel is trying to communicate something very profound, yet after an examination of her cryptic lyrics (printed on the liner notes), her vocals sound more like an interior monologue. It's creepy and sublime. "Swig" -- a broken Indian raga that can't quite find its central drone -- is more anxious than soothing. The track is tempered by flute trills that sound as though they might as well have been played by a passing breeze.
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Despite the roar, Dilate is a rich and sublime beauty, one that's best taken lying down. This isn't to say that the album will render you completely useless. You could enjoy it while going about everyday activities (such as making tea or opening the blinds), but I wouldn't recommend listening while operating heavy machinery.