"Beautiful" - George Saunders
"[S]teeped in melancholy, the sheer beauty of American Bardo parades the vast talent of Mark O’Bitz and Eric Anders."
"Compelling, evocative tableau vivant--one of the best things we've heard all year." - John Abrahamsen, Radio Phoenix
An Album by Eric Anders and Mark O'Bitz
Released July 31, 2020
While working on Ghosts To Ancestors, Jeff Peters recommended a book to Eric: George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo.
He probably recommended this novel because the main characters are ghosts, and Jeff knew Eric is interested in Buddhism, ghosts, and hauntings--especially the philosophical take on hauntings called "hauntology" and the Japanese version of the ghost story called the "yurei" story.
Lincoln in the Bardo is an American Buddhist's yurei story that explores many hauntological themes.
Eric was so moved by this book, he wrote the song "Matterbloomlight" with Mark O'Bitz back in October of 2018. The two then decided to do a whole album of songs inspired by the novel and its characters. In the spring of 2019, before they had finished Ghosts To Ancestors, Mark and Eric got together for a few days of writing songs and they experienced a creative explosion that surprised both of them.
Eric wanted this album to be darker and bluesier than their prior releases so he searched for a producer who might be able to provide them with this change in direction. Eric and Mark felt fortunate they found Mike Butler of San Diego, Eric's former home and where his family goes back three generations.
"... one of the year’s best albums."
- Randall Radic, Tattoo.com
"Americana music in 2020 connected to what was happening during this turbulent year... [artists] dealt with the things that bind us together and keep us apart. We discovered that there were a plethora of wonderful albums... Those worthy of an honorable mention include... Anders & O'Bitz's American Bardo."
- Popmatters, The 25 Best Americana Albums of 2020
“Matterbloomlight” [is] a gorgeous and haunting song. This album is much more of the same. Echoing remembrances, deeply felt and beautifully wrought. It’s a gorgeous mix of Americana, folk, soulful rock, and something more, something hard to define musically. But whatever you might call it, the effects of this brilliant, gorgeously and subtly produced music is profound... It’s a healing sound, although mournful. Like a prayer, or a choral piece, or the sound of a sunset... American Bardo is an exquisite album. Reminiscent of REM or Neil Young, these two phenomenal musicians give us a record to open our hearts to, when all else seems so lost and we need to feel again. Loved it."
- Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros, NoHo Arts District
"A beautiful expression of the cyclical nature of life and death, the synth-washed folk of ‘Matterbloomlight (Revisited)’ offers listeners a profound sample of their forthcoming album, American Bardo, due out 31 July."
"[American Bardo] is one of the most intriguing new albums of 2020.... [Producer Mike Butler] brought out the best in each arrangement, resulting in a maximization of each song’s impact. From the smallest aspect, such as the organ in "Bardo Cons" to the balance of the guitar and tambourine in "My Love" to the ethereal sound of Anders’ vocals in "Holding Will," every aspect big and small is expertly utilized throughout the album.... American Bardo is one of the most unique of this year’s new albums... Its lyrics ... will deeply impact [listeners] ..."
"Eric Anders & Mark O’Bitz partner up for the new single titled ‘Old Theory of Love’. Haunting from the outset, ‘Old Theory Of Love’ gives that in-the-shadows feel while staying outside-of-the-box in execution. This is a dark and beautiful song. The kind that grows on you with that initial listen. The kind that wraps around you with its introspection and stays a part of you. This is music incarnate. That sensual slow build to the punchline and the punchline isn’t funny, it’s reflective...Do not listen to this track; absorb it."
"This mix of Americana and Indie Rock is where they excel with Anders taking the lead vocal and O’Bitz providing guitars and keyboards as they do throughout the album.... This is an album that is both evocative and challenging and gives me good reason to check out their back catalogue. Now, where’s my Amazon Books list so that I can add Lincoln In The Bardo to it."
"Mark O’Bitz and Eric Anders don’t receive the plaudits their music commands. Hopefully, with their just-released album, American Bardo, they will garner the recognition the duo deserves.
Recorded in San Diego under the auspices of producer Mike Butler, who also produced and mixed, the album, American Bardo comprises 12-tracks of exquisitely pensive music.
“Matterbloomlight (Revisited)” [is] a gorgeous song which Erica Garcia eloquently described: “With lyrics as true and honest, Anders and O’Bitz remind me of all the ways an acoustic guitar can fill your soul to the brim. The track is reminiscent of feelings of yesterday with hope for tomorrow and tells the most perfect, heartbreaking story – one that still needs to be heard.”
Other not-to-be-missed tracks include “Bury Me,” chock-full of soft graceful strings, and marvelous ghost-like tones, along with spectral guitar flavors. “A Home The I Can’t Know” delivers dripping fluxes of diaphanous colors, simultaneously delicate and captivating, lingering, and poignant.
“And On Love,” bathed in bluesy aromas blended with savors of country tints, draws listeners into its sonic embrace, primarily because of the low-slung braying of the organ.
[S]teeped in melancholy, the sheer beauty of American Bardo parades the vast talent of Mark O’Bitz and Eric Anders."
"[American Bardo has] a minimalist aesthetic and a penchant for a guitar that sounds ghostly and full of echoes… I liked the effect on Matterbloomfight (Revisited) with its lost highway guitar and vocals in a melodic tenor that sings over a sparse drum beat. Bury Me has lovely harmonies between the strings and acoustic guitar, with electric guitar that makes its way in later, once the mood has been set."
"Beautiful songwriting.... We know it wasn’t by chance ... these two artists cross[ed] paths – nothing satisfies us more than chance creating a true work of art."
"A very thoughtful record that’s also quite poetic ... this 3rd album from Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz showcases their respective songwriting talents well with a very careful and memorable execution of gorgeous melancholy."
"Surreally bound to a hazy harmony in “Holding Will,” lush and full of color that translates into pure vitality in “Bardo Cons,” the string play afforded to most every track in Eric Anders’ and Mark O’Bitz’s collaborative album American Bardo is spellbinding and often as postmodern as any of the lyrical poetry in the record is. The guitars are absolutely the bedrock of the emotionality in this LP ... If you follow independent music, specifically in the realm of alternative folk and indie rock, this is a multidimensional piece you can’t afford to miss out on.
I really like the overall production style of American Bardo, and personally I think that the crisp and physical approach to even the most modest of harmonies in “Judgement Day” and “Matterbloomlight (Revisited)” is essentially what makes this LP feel as achingly cinematic as it does ..."
"American Bardo is a cleverly layered concept album that draws on the power of a book… This gives the record an added sheen and delight. With some strong vocal work and interesting guitar rhythms, it’s an album of subtle nuances that’s built to last."
- Jamie Parmenter, Vinyl Chapters
"A poetic spaciousness reigns ... speckled with strumming guitar notes and awash with strings. There is a spaciousness that radiates from each track, only to be filled with a longing in the lyrics and vocals. American Bardo — like the novel it is inspired by — is an emotive journey with a sense of experimentation and no shortage of craft."
- Kaitlin Ruether, New Sick Music
"Anders and O’Bitz hold nothing back from their experimentations, and ... it’s also one of the smartest indie offerings I’ve listened to this summer.... [I]t’s undisputedly one of the most mature and emotionally forward [releases] to have landed on my desk ... Simply put, American Bardo is another unmissable hit from the minds of two incredibly skilled sonic poets."
- Kendall Townsend, Vent's Magazine
"“Matterbloomlight (Revisited)” is a wonderfully low-slung misty song full of softly gleaming guitars and haunting, melancholic vocals... “Bury Me” travels on a gentle guitar, sad elegant strings, and ethereal vocal textures. I love the luminous resonance of the guitars on the solo section of this track. “A Home The I Can’t Know” flows on dreamy, gossamer surfaces, exuding the deep despondency of unimaginable grief ... imbued by woe [and] unbelievably beautiful. “And One Love” stands out simply because of its sonic potency, discharging bluesy washes of color on SoCal alt-country savors. “Won’t Live It Down” is vaguely reminiscent of Bob Dylan, drifting yet rife with a kind of seeping momentum. A wistful guitar solo infuses the tune with yawning torment, the knife-like inner pain brought on by mourning. More like a musical prayer of lamentation than anything else, American Bardo is enormously complex, yet superbly and magnificently wrought. Definitely one of the best albums of the year."
"American Bardo is a sonic journey that repaints each character’s journey and vulnerability that feels intimately personal and fictional at the same time."
"This album collaboration shows that anything is possible... an amazing collaborative album called “American Bardo”.... brings both their talents to shine... When you listen to “Bury Me”, you get a sense of the genius of Mark O’Bitz to perfectly complement the sultry voice of Eric Anders. ... Their music commands us to listen and reflect... We get the feeling of early Lynyrd Skynyrd in terms of guitar melody to really steal the show. When you hear Freebird or Tuesday’s Gone, you know exactly what we mean."
- Javier Zepeda, Vents Magazine
"[American Bardo] is a collection of warm, often haunting, well-written songs filled with strong lyrics, vocals, and musicianship. Anders and O'Bitz have crafted a winner... With fine musicianship, excellent vocals and production, and strong lyrics, this album harkens back to a time when pop music had considerably more substance than it does now. Well worth a listen."
- General Jabbo, Blinded by Sound
"Anders’ haunting vocals ... [and] O’Bitz’s atmospheric touches ... grab us deep ... a gem-of-a-listen."
- Ralph Greco, Short and Sweet LA
Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz "American Bardo"
Album Release Featured
“American Bardo” is an ode to George Saunders’ exquisite novel, Lincoln In The Bardo, the Mann Booker Prize-winning novel about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his young son Willie.
I reviewed one of the tracks on the album last year, released as a single, “Matterbloomlight,” a gorgeous and haunting song.
This album is much more of the same. Echoing remembrances, deeply felt and beautifully wrought. It’s a gorgeous mix of Americana, folk, soulful rock, and something more, something hard to define musically. But whatever you might call it, the effects of this brilliant, gorgeously and subtly produced music is profound.
The stories in the songs are built around the book, it seems as if the history of Lincoln and the death of his son had a big impact on Anders and O’Bitz. As parents, the real understanding that at any moment you might lose a child is a terrifying thing. My children are grown and I still wake up in a cold sweat some nights. This music, with all its cinematic weavings and pining chords takes that emotion to a truly intense level, while still leaving a space for hope and love and a sense of some kind of closure or release.
It’s a healing sound, although mournful. Like a prayer, or a choral piece or the sound of a sunset. Death is inevitable, sadness consequential and forever. But can sounds heal us, or reconnect us to who we were before the loss? Perhaps, when done right and when we are ready to feel something other than emptiness. How interesting that they chose now to release this album, when we are in the middle of this pandemic, not yet ready ourselves for our collective mourning. When there are so many more yet to come to be mourned. Are we numb? I know I am. But sometime soon we are all going to have our individual reckonings and poetry, art, and above all music will be what we undoubtedly turn to.
“American Bardo” is an exquisite album. Reminiscent of REM or Neil Young, these two phenomenal musicians give us a record to open our hearts to, when all else seems so lost and we need to feel again. Loved it.
- Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros, NoHo Arts District
INTERVIEWS AND MORE
LINCOLN IN THE BARDO: A CONCISE DESCRIPTION
From Robert Baird's London Review of Books review of Lincoln in the Bardo, "Shower of Hats" (LRB, Vol. 39, No. 7, 30 March 2017):
The main action of [George Saunder's novel, Lincoln in the Bardo,] takes place on a single night in February 1862, in Washington DC’s Oak Hill Cemetery. Every character we meet in the graveyard, save two (a nightwatchman and Abraham Lincoln) is recently dead. Convinced the coffins in which they spend the daylight hours are mere ‘sick-boxes’, and half-persuaded that they might recover into health at any moment, the ghosts are ‘tarrying’ in the near beyond. This grey purgatorial state is the ‘bardo’ of the novel’s title. It has little in common with the Buddhist concept of that name, which envisioned a sort of metempsychotic wormhole that connected successive cycles of rebirth. In Saunders’s bardo, a Dantean contrapasso transforms the ghosts in accordance with the moral ailments that afflicted their lives. Roger Bevins III, a young gay man who committed suicide, appears covered in eyes, noses and hands, a nod to the sensualist he became in the moments after he slit his wrists. A printer called Hans Vollman, killed by a falling roof beam hours before he planned to bed his young bride for the first time, is rewarded with a dented forehead and enormous erection. What awaits the spirits, once they work up the nerve to abandon their attachment to their former lives, is a confrontation with a mysterious ‘matterlightblooming phenomenon’, which escorts them to a terrifying final judgment.
The Lincoln of the title is not Abe but Willie, the president’s 11-year-old son, who dies of typhoid just hours before the novel begins. Like most of the ghosts, he is at first unaware of his own demise, and resolves to wait for his father to find him at the cemetery. This resolution gives the plot the kick it needs, as Willie’s determination runs up against a gruesome quirk of his new existence: children who tarry risk being trapped in the bardo for ever. To escape this fate, Willie must choose to yield to the matterlightblooming phenomenon, but that means accepting his separation from his father, and thus the reality of his own death.