Led by Phil Christie, formerly of O Emperor, The Bonk are hard to describe and even harder to ignore. Their debut album, 2017’s ‘The Bonk Seems To Be A Verb’, established the band’s sonic template, built on cryptic lyricism, intricate rhythms and an esoteric blend of garage rock, jazz and avant-pop. The intervening years have seen the collective develop a loyal cult following via a series of digital-only short form releases and much lauded live shows.
On ‘Greater Than Or Equal To The Bonk’, Christie and company continue to deconstruct the rules written by their forbearers. The resulting sound lands somewhere in-between Yes, Captain Beefheart, and independent crime drama film score. Despite these overt prog leanings, the album does not meander, packing in 9 tracks at just over 32-minutes.
Led by singles Future 87 and Trying On Oblivion – the former a deceptively straightforward contemporary take on garage-funk packed with dizzying percussion, the latter a dissonant dirge that builds to a cacophonous, horn-laden crescendo – the album is a challenging, yet vibrant proposition that never repeats the same idea.
The Stars Looks Great pairs skittering snares with kaleidoscopic keys and spiralling brass and strings, while May Feign sounds like Radiohead’s The National Anthem on acid. Elsewhere, Lonely The Only is driven by its perforating guitar riff, almost microtonal in its subtle discord.
Picking right back up where they left off, The Bonk display a keen aptitude for interplay, much like that of their predecessors, but with little regard for whether or not their own particular take on these styles is in any way typical of the genre. ‘Greater Than…’ is in this sense both familiar and unfamiliar. Even in terms of production, there is a certain warmth to the recordings that wouldn’t sound out of place in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s but even Don Van Vliet’s compositions never went this far out.
Equal parts colourful and captivating, ‘Greater Than…’ is a brilliantly weird record. A deliberately confused mixture of styles and songs that reimagine the past for the present, while displaying spectacular musicianship and interplay.