By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Fans of this seminal L.A. "underground" band, including this writer, forgive them such tripe because it's so honestly tortured. You can tell they believe every word, in part because lead singer Greg Graffin favors Joe Strummer's full-throated angst over Johnny Rotten's fiendish sneer, but mostly because, despite embellishments that have come and gone, the band kicks the same tight little ass year after year, song after song.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter that someone named Brian Baker has replaced guitarist and founder Brett Gurewitz, or that fuckin' Ric Ocasek of the Cars has been brought in as producer to give Bad Religion that Rancid punk sheen. Fourteen of the 15 tracks are under three minutes, and all of them lace up the Doc Martens and mosh. And while The Gray Matter isn't the best Bad Religion has offered (that would be 1983's Into The Unknown and 1993's Recipe For Hate), it's still plenty reliable. The best musical rush is "Ten In 2010," a piece of quasi-speed/thrash adorned with some futuristic blather I doubt I'll ever figure out. The best lyrics are in "Punk Rock Song," which captures the irony of punk's powerlessness even as it strives to be something more. But the song's most inspirational line is probably the way Graffin hollers "Let's go!" just before the band hurls itself into another inimitable blitzkrieg. In these times, "Let's go!" seems about as pertinent an anthem as one could hope for. (Robson)
Bad Religion perform April 30 at First Avenue.
BARDO POND'S REACH just exceeds its grasp. One of the bands who began in the early '90s as punk was dissolving into the mainstream, they bring a different sensibility to rock, one born of free jazz and No Wave. Bardo Pond is interested in sound and noise, rather than notes and songs, but rather than intentionally destroying musical ideas like No Wavers, Bardo Pond simply began knowing nothing about music, building their pieces up through collective improvisation. The result is free playing within a punk format, searching for something it doesn't actually find. In a sense, High Frequencies is an attempt to play music that doesn't yet exist.
Bardo Pond makes progress, though. Stretching riffs into motifs and echoing noise squalls back and forth, the guitars forsake rhythm to build a heavy wall of sound. The drums and bass aren't there to move that sound along, but to give it density. And vocalist Isobel Sollenberger doesn't articulate anything; rather, she floats feminine mystery above the cacophonous mix, her flute weaving an ethereal thread into the band's noise sculptures.
Perhaps that's as far afield as a rock band can get at this point and still be a rock band. Further exploration, perhaps in the production department, could get them past the built-in limits of collective improv. But for now the band ends up with a heavier version of the slow-core style droned out by bands like Codeine. I hope Bardo Pond's experimental aesthetic, and the indie-rock audience's new tolerance for tunelessness, will spur them into a freer, or at least stranger, zone. Stay tuned. (Stephen Tignor)