Norway’s Bonk appears to be one of those bands that’s more skilled at describing its music than writing or performing it. Bonk’s Web site bio explains that its name “represents an art ensemble from Finland involved in all aspects of modern art.” Elsewhere, it’s been defined as “a rock band, onomatopoetikon, art collaboration and activities of a sexual character.” Plus, the founding band members come from a previous punk band Anal Babes and now are “sleazy hippies of the Oslo punk scene.” How could this not be a fascinating, or at the very least unusual, listen?
Disappointingly, there’s very little on Against Nothing, the band’s second full-length, to back up the ambitious verbiage. Bonk takes the over-produced power rock of Soundtrack of Our Lives and the garage-y strut of the Hives and piles on its own wayward sketchbook of random ideas (good and bad) into a record only noteworthy for its lack of cohesion. With its consistently sloppy segues between song sections, Against Nothing is less a collection of realized songs than it is a collage of ideas patched together with dollar-store adhesive tape.
“The House” starts the album off in high spirit, a whip-crack angular guitar riff, charmingly off-key harmonies and several chromatic builds creating a catchy, energetic three minutes of punk treading the line between pop and DIY enthusiasm. Bonk has a knack for crescendo that falls short in the studio but is surely more effective in a live setting. In addition to “The House,” a well-placed build-up in “Life Is Noise” peters out in a flaccid bridge before the band restarts the stale power-chord trudge at the song’s core.
Guitar lines sporadically display the twisted looseness of Gibby Haynes in “Gifted Children” and “Homecoming.” The shrill, atypical guitar line in “Homecoming” looms in the song’s atmosphere even when it’s not being played, as the band goes into a double-time bass-heavy vamp with the album’s richest vocal harmonies. Likewise, a spastic distorted saxophone figures prominently on several cuts, a welcome addition.
By the halfway point, it’s clear we’re dealing with a band with a severe self-awareness deficiency. “Bonk Against Nothing” begins in a grungy punk groove before a graceless segue into a teenager-with-a-Wah-pedal funk attempt. Later, the distorted Molly Hatchet guitar line of “Cut the Feet (To the Shoe)” cuts immediately into a Motï¿½rhead proto-punk-metal stomp in a manner more jarring than accomplished.
It’s not that there aren’t interesting ideas at work here or fleeting glimpses of evocative instrumentalism, but at this point, the band lacks the focus or self-analytical ability to cohere the various pieces into a coherent whole. Bonk seems to want to be weirder or more offbeat than it is, needs to be and is capable of being.
“Life Is Noise” MP3: http://www.acefu.com/MP3s/bonk/bonk_lifeisnoise.mp3