Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz are a prolific indie folk/Americana duo who have produced some of the most interesting and beautiful work the genre has seen in the last four years. With the harmoizing aptitude of Fleet Foxes and the like but the post-punk grit of Tom Waits, these two artists are well-known by those of us at YEDM who follow such circles, but we never thought they’d end up featured on YEDM. We should never underestimate the innovation of a good artist, and the newly remixed versions of their haunting 2020 album American Bardo show Anders and O’Bitz as the latest artists to prove that point.
Now that we hear them, the remixes of American Bardo, retitled for the occasion as Bardo Hauntings and split into two parts, sound like they were made to be electronic all along. So much so, in fact, that the original songs almost sound a bit minimal now. Quite often with folk and Americana work that’s been re-written or remixed into electronica or pop, there’s a moment of, “hmm, that’s weird,” in one’s head, followed by either a yay or nay vote. Ths is very much not the case with Bardo Hauntings, and the reason for these remixes gelling so well is definitely the remixers, Mike Butler and Steven Jess Borth II (CHLLNGR).
Bardo Hauntings I, the Butler Hauntings, contains remixes from half of American Bardo done by engineer and producer Mike Butler. Aside from his engineering creds with Phoebe Bridgers, Norah Jones, The Shins and The Predenders (among countless others), Butler has been working with Anders and O’Bitz for a long time. Intimate knowledge of an artist’s body of work obviously helps with a project like this, and Butler probably has the most intimate knowledge of these artist aside from the artists themselves. He produced and mixed American Bardo itself, along with every Anders/O’Bitz release since, save for 2021’s True September Songs, including the Bardo Hauntings EPs.
For those EDM fans who are also aware of the jazz, folk and ska worlds, Steve Borth may already be a familiar name. Part of a musical dynasty began by his father Steven Jess Borth I, Borth II had an early aptitude for music and was already recognized as a saxopohone prodigy by age 10. Borth has been all over the world utsilizing his multi-instrumental talents in ensembles and ska bands, but EDMers may know him better by his ska/reggae/soul/electronica crossover project, CHLLNGR. Fusing all those genres with breaks, future bass, dubstep, house and techno, Borth’s CHLLNGR project garnered him quite a bit of attention from the EDM world in in the early 2010s. His aptitude for such fusion also made him a perfect choice for Bardo Hauntings.
The 12 remixes on American Bardo are split evenly between Butler and Borth to make the two Bardo Hauntings, but it seems the two artists picked which ones they wanted, as the track order doesn’t follow the original LP. In this way, each producer was able to tell his own story with the tracks they chose. It seems Anders and O’Bitz gave them carte blanche.
The title, ‘Bardo Hauntings,’ is based on the idea that remixes haunt the original songs. In this case, the original songs are those of American Bardo, so these remixes are “bardo hauntings.” As with ghosts, the original is present and absent at the same time
Butler flexed some composition muscles few other than his laundry list of famous clients have heard before. Ranging from the startling yet emotive industrial/ambient blend of the “Won’t Live It Down” remix to the heady, theatrical and largely analog remix of “Matterbloomlight” (this is now a third version of this achingly beautiful song, by the way) to the minimal hour mix of “Holding Will,” Butler incorporates a range of styles and genres without overdoing it. This is key with such a delicate sound pallette as is in Anders and O’Bitz’s original discography.
Borth’s remixes are both more grassroots and more ravey than Butler’s approach. In most of the tracks he remixes, Borth keeps almost all of the original stems, including the instrumentals and general pop/rock structure, as more and more electronica creeps in progressively to the tunes as both they and the EP roll on. The first track “Haunting Abraham,” for example, starts off almost completely acoustic and then grows in production complexity as Borth adds in a house beat subtly masked as analog. By the end, the track has a full compliment of strings and can no be easily recognizable as a pop or folk EDM track. Talk about delicate treatment; it’s almost like we’re duped into rave tracks on Borth’s EP, and each track is a surprise as to how it will unveil itself.
Butler and Borth had different approaches to this remixing project, but they both brought out the best of Anders and O’Bitz’s work, and hopefully exposed it to a whole new range of fans. The idea that these are electronic “hauntings” of American Bardo is a brilliant one, as it ties in the Bardo Hauntings not only to the original album but to the 2017 Pulitzer-winning book by George Saunders, Lincoln In the Bardo upon which American Bardo was based. It’s an illustration of how great art begets great art begets great art and it can spread across media, generations and genres. Now the only thing left to do is go full on Bardo inception and have Butler and Borth remix each other’s remixes. In the meantime, a beautiful body of work is now here for folk, literature and EDM fans alike to enjoy the “hauntings.”