Album Review | The Bonk Defy Description On Greater Than Or Equal To The Bonk

Given the avant-garde and anti-essentialist philosophy behind the music of The Bonk, the current project of former O Emperor alumni Phil Christie, it seems like a fool’s errand to try and translate and analyse their music using mere language, but here goes nothing.

The band’s 2017 debut The Bonk Seems To Be A Verb introduced us to their sonic universe, a world filled with enigmatic lyricism, twisting rhythms and nods to jazz, garage rock and some of the more experimental pop music of the last hundred years. The group has slowly and organically built an enthusiastic fan base since then, thanks to several short but intriguing releases and some thrilling live shows, and now that fanbase has a new album to dive into: Greater Than Or Equal To The Bonk.

Close your eyes while you’re listening to album opener ‘I’m In There’ and you might see images of soldiers gearing themselves up for a battle, evoked by the eerily dissonant whistling wind instruments punctuated by booming drums that all build to a chaotic crescendo. Then the fog of war is lifted and ‘Future 87’ takes you in another direction altogether with its frantic, funky percussion, fuzzy vocal drawl and choppy garage guitars. ‘Trying On Oblivion’ returns to the ‘impending doom’ vibe of the opening track, sounding like a dissonant funeral march that keeps getting interrupted by a nearby orchestra warming up.

Structurally, every song on the album does its own thing, never giving you too much time to get comfortable. In the face of this chaos, individual instruments act like sonic breadcrumbs, as when Christie’s eerie theremin and keyboard frequently reappear to remind the listener where they are and reset their ear before the next wig out.


The percussion throughout the album also deserves a shout out. According to the album notes, these duties were shared between Jim and Phil Christie, Brendan Fennessy and Robert Grant and the lads have struck a nice balance between frenzied rhythms that sound like they’re racing against the rest of the music and sitting back to let the other sounds fill the space as on more the more chilled-out album closer ‘Needless to Say’. It frequently brings to mind minimalist composer Steve Reich and his influential composition Drumming, that makes memorable use of repeated patterns that slowly slip out of synch with each other until, almost imperceptibly, the track you’re listening to seems to take on a new form.

In a fascinating and wide-ranging piece written for Cassandra Voices, Phil Christie wrote that “The thing that is really interesting to me in all of this is the experience of not being anything, possessing no essential qualities, having nothing particularly special to speak of, and being fully content to tip on.”

Greater Than or Equal to The Bonk is special because of, not in spite of, its constant joyful gear changes and successful efforts to avoid simple description, summation or analysis.

There, I gave it my best shot. Now go and listen to it, ok?