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January 9, 2014

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Songs in Spanish from Destroyer, space rock from Bardo Pond

Destroyer

Five Spanish Songs

(Merge)

Dan Bejar, the consistent member of the Vancouver concern Destroyer, wrote, “It was 2013. The English language seemed spent, despicable, not easily singable. It felt over for English...” You read it here, folks—English is over. 

Having created no fewer than two masterpieces over the last half-dozen years (Destroyer’s Rubies and Kaputt), perhaps Bejar needed a break, a cleansing of the palate and something new to try, and the new EP Five Spanish Songs serves that purpose, which solely consists (apart from a throwaway 46-second track of conga drums) of covers of songs by the Spanish musician Antonio Luque of the band Sr. Chinarro. 

Bejar is at the point in his career where he pretty much has carte blanche to try anything he damn well pleases, and nevertheless, this may seem like an odd move; one of Destroyer’s strong points is its enigmatic, crafted lyric-work, and with these five songs sung in Spanish, Bejar is apparently leaning toward extra obliqueness rather than clarity. 

This writer is reminded of the cryptic book Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini, written in a completely undecipherable, invented language in order to invoke the sensation of being a toddler looking at a book with fascination, not yet understanding the words on the pages.

However, this EP is not undecipherable; that’s what Google Translate is for. Perhaps something is lost in translation, but the opening middle-of-the-road rock of “Maria de las nieves” offers a puzzling portrait of “practitioners of a weird religion, as a beautiful nun.” “Del monton” delivers a jaunty strum for its seaside setting, speaking of a giant pumpkin and Franz Kafka, and the glam-pop of “El rito” and upbeat “Babieca” push the album along with an infectious spirit. 

It’s an EP in the “Oh, why not?” category that ostensibly serves up easy pleasures but underneath offers obscure head-scratchers.

Bardo Pond

Peace on Venus

(Fire)

The Philadelphia five-piece band Bardo Pond, active for over two decades, has formulated its own fuzzy, monumental rock with a sound that might be considered the theoretical confluence of the heavy sludge of The Melvins, the psychedelia of Spacemen 3, a hippie cult and a roomful of pharmaceuticals. 

Imagine long Neil Young and Crazy Horse jams with more fried-sounding guitar work and towering projections of power, proceeding at a dirge pace. The new 5-song full-length album, Peace on Venus, unrolls the interstellar magic carpet with “Kali Yuga Blues,” named after the stage of spiritual degeneration in Hinduism that the Earth is apparently currently experiencing; it sets the stage aesthetically for the album, with energy-sustaining distorted guitar licks from brothers Michael and John Gibbons, the rhythm section of bassist Clint Takeda and drummer Jason Kourkonis and vocalist/flutist Isobel Sollenberger. 

Sollenberger wanders in a daze with glassy-eyed, disorienting singing and echoing flute passages that work, strangely enough, over the hefty rock juggernaut.

The second half of Peace on Venus consists of two 10-minute long tracks, starting with “Chance” which opens with a flower-people acoustic guitar and flute peace-out for a mere 40 seconds, just as a tease, before the guitars and drums join in and proceed with largely the same manner heard before. 

For this writer, the frustrating thing about Peace on Venus is the lack of variation—the album is all too happy to lumber along as a space-rock behemoth for its duration. While other groups such as Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky offer lengthy, dramatic builds and ejaculatory payoffs, Bardo Pond avoids the catharsis, with no real resolution at the end. 

To be fair, though, maybe that’s not the point, with the group content to hypnotize the listener into a certain state, zoning out without jarring interruptions.

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January 9, 2014

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