by Jorge Ivan Velez (@funnylinkedin)
In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, there is a discussion between two characters on what it means to love something and how to go about loving that thing, with the suggestion being things cannot be loved with your logic or reason, but rather with your belly. It is from this place that Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Bonzo not only adopt the title of their fourth LP, but also develop the lens which directs their contemplative soundscapes as they reach the root of how it is humans understand their ability to feel.
With Your Belly is not a place where sugary choruses thrive. On any given track, at the very least the vocals, if not every other instrument, are muddied with modulation and reverb. However, this band is not hiding; they are clear from the get-go that this is how they define themselves and find further understanding. This is evident on album opener, “U Wish,” where marauding drums plow through dissonant guitar riffs, creating a pop song that only knows reconciliation in its most distant dreams. The band do eventually lend their hand to something more accessible, with spacious tracks like “Breath” and “Belly,” though this is more so Bonzo asserting their capability to develop fleshed-out, more coherent songs whilst showcasing their more pertinent interests in the rewards that come from challenging accepted norms of song structure.
It is in their abstract moments where Bonzo shine most. On “Team,” an immaculate vastness grows from clean guitars and a simple drumbeat. Listeners are lured into the eventual sonic immersion of the song’s climax, an ambient wash beautifully wandering within the potentiality of feeling outside human capacity. It moves into realms where sonic art speaks larger volumes than formal communication. In a similar fashion, “Godstopper” viscerally attacks the definitions of arrangement under which even the band themselves work– from a comfortable hidden cove bursts an aggressive jazz-like movement where their acute attention to rhythm makes every instrument fall upon itself in discordant unison.
With all the diverse ideas and effects dedicated to challenging preconceptions of arrangement, it is perhaps easy for vocalist/guitarist John Sciortino’s words to go unnoticed. However, as most beautifully demonstrated in “Packy East,” it is his lyricism most thoughtfully coloring Bonzo’s dimensions, “only when you get me down / do i fray into something less important / i cannot remain without a sure way out / and where i go to hear the best news / that i’m okay until the pressures found”. Sung over shimmering guitars, these five simple lines reveal means we use to displace feeling as not strong enough to bare its weight, with the intensity of drums and searing leads adding physical impact to a sobering reality. It is in this world With Your Belly exists, in places we hope to be farther away than they are, should the weight of understanding actual feeling become too intense.