Abe Houck is something of a musical polyglot, developing a history that spans various bands and different genres. In recent years, he’s spent much of his time as part of Dead Testaments and Elk Milk, two groups whose haunting gothic folk and indie rock impulses allowed him to submerge himself in a wealth of storied influence and inspiration. Drawing upon the work of artists such as Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Richard Buckner, the music was brooding and mischievous, but not without a wicked sense of humor at times. It suited Houck’s craggy lyricism and allowed the bands to fully embrace the twilit-landscapes drawn from their collective rhythmic instincts.
Recently, however, Houck felt a need to create something outside of the framework of those bands. Born from this need, he founded The Bardos, a solo moniker under which he was able to explore some distinctly DIY bedroom impulses, further refining and experimenting with the sounds he’s become so comfortable with over the past decade. And with the release of “Garage Tapes Vol. I” and “Garage Tapes Vol. II,” he’s built an immense arena of gothic melodies and bare-bones arrangements which collide with punkish neo-folk ramblers in a wash of lo-fi brilliance and unrestrained creativity.
“These were all home recordings I have been working on since January,” Houck says. “Been very inspired by southern lo-fi home recorders like R. Stevie Moore and Abner Jay. Trying to get songs recorded while they are still a little wild, with as little domestication as possible. Looking to wrap up a few more volumes by the end of the year.” He goes to explain the moniker’s significance, explaining that “it’s a Tibetan Buddhist term for the space in between death and the next incarnation.”
These two collections feel both intimate and vast, employing emotional closeness and universal ache in a way that’s utterly mesmerizing. Oftentimes creaky and barely held together, the songs amble along unhurriedly, content in their ramshackle beauty. Still, Houck doesn’t forget to provide a bit of thrilling momentum when needed, bringing in unexpected bursts of electric guitar and persuasive Kinks-ian percussion to lay out a sound which defies easy categorization.
Houck’s deep and resonant voice wanders through these sounds with an otherworldly ease, anchoring both records through narratives filled with ache, joy and the pull of intangible forces. The songs feel incredibly personal and close to his heart, which makes sense as he recorded everything himself and played all the instruments (save for the flute which traipses through “It Goes, Bye Bye” on “Vol. II.” The overall feeling here is one of mournful remembrance and awareness of life’s capriciousness – he doesn’t wallow in the darkness but finds a strange and beautiful equilibrium that infuses his work with a sense of unusual loveliness and curiosity.