Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz use timing with sharp effectiveness. Anders — a songwriter — met O’Bitz —a guitarist and composer — at one of the latter’s shows. The two artists hit it off and developed an artistic relationship. Anders promptly began releasing solo records before he and O’Bitz brought their collaboration to fruition in 2018.
American Bardo is the duo’s third album and brings George Saunders’ Mann-Booker-Prize-winning novel, Lincoln in the Bardo to a new kind of life. This version of the epic tale is 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.
“My Love”, for example, is a doomed love song with a steady beat. Despite the pulse here, dreamy slowness lingers. While songs like “A Home the I Can’t Know” carries a minimal sense, other meandering songs find a richness in the string compositions, as on “Bury Me” and the narratively pivotal “Holding Will”. Americana takes root in the more resolute rhythms, such as “And One Love”.
There is a versatility here, though it takes a moment before the duo dig into it. “Old Theory of Love” is grand and twinkles with the falling of piano notes and a more up-front vocal performance — something more tethered to the earth than previous tracks. “Haunting Abraham” explores a rock steadiness with a catchy lilt, and “Bardo Cons” brings the twang, recovering that Americana sense for a unity throughout the album.
American Bardo — like the novel it is inspired by — is an emotive journey with a sense of experimentation and no shortage of craft.