Bong - Thought and Existence - (8.5/10)
Published on October 4, 2018
Times occur every now and then when experience is difficult to put into words. Is that because they are inexplicable or because we simply fail to shape them into language? Try to put down into words how you felt the first time you thought you had fallen in love, attempt to justify watching traffic from the window of a tall building, write down what happens to you while you are on drugs: they all lead to frustration and abstraction and cannot be conveyed how you would like. Let’s try something else: make a sentence that contains no nouns. The seven words preceding this sentence contain two nouns, ‘sentence’ and ‘noun’. Can you really make a sentence that doesn’t include them? Let’s see. Make writing-long without indicative-speak. Such is writing without nouns.
There was an Argentine writer in the last century, who went by the name of Jorge Luis Borges. He was crippled by poor sight and went blind long before he died, but achieved renown in his lifetime. In 1940, he published a short story in which the writer himself (in the absence of any particular characters) discovers a fictional world named Tlön, where people do not believe in the reality of things fixed in time and space but only of acts occurring in a series, independent of one another. Of the languages spoken by inhabitants of Tlön, one substitutes verbs for nouns and another combines adjectives to form nouns. The result is subjective realism in a form stronger than Berkeley posited, since the world’s reality is denied. Though Tlön is at first a fictional world, it influences Earth’s philosophy and gradually begins to replace our own existence. Such is the story named “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”.
The second track on Bong’s eighth full-length fades in quickly considering its great length, moaning out a flowing stream of sumptuous guitar pulses as waves of distorted bass lap at the ticking of drums, the whole occasionally coalescing and occasionally refracting. Progressing gradually, the 19 minute piece appears stuck in endless self-negation though eventually aligns with another plane entirely, incrementally tipping round its simple axis of guitar, bass, and drums as each small change is introduced. Calling the suggestively-named “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” a song would be a far stretch, while the generic description of drone doom is only helpful if one can accept that the music is light and spacious, and also moves along at a reasonable pace. It is more akin to a journey without any discernible features, merely an evolving state of remoteness. Such is the lack of definition in the music.
“The Golden Fields” is barely shorter and barely easier to describe. Here, it is possible to say that Mike Vest sounds like a doom guitarist, ringing out long riffs of exaggerated slowness, while Mike Smith keeps admirably steady time as well as ornamenting the piece with fills, though Bong form a void with their instruments instead of filling one with the noise they make. Even when Dave Terry’s monolithic chants enter after halfway, “The Golden Fields” remains hugely expansive and yet evocative of nothing in particular, as if the listener were entirely divorced from reality. As on 2013’s Idle Days on the Yann and the more recent We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been, great somethings open up for our something to drift through, all the time coming closer and closer to something. Putting the listening experience into more concrete terms than that would feel like lying. Such is the scope and obscurity of Thought and Existence.
Bong in 2018 are very similar to the band that have turned up on the last four or five albums. The great sense of spaciousness that the English three-piece manage to exude is wonderful, capturing the listener and dragging them away from ordinary considerations after only a few minutes. As such, the brief 36 minutes of the album is much more generous than it appears: fans of Om should remember how Conference of the Birds seemed to possess all the mass in the universe, yet leave the door open for repeat listen after repeat listen, often in the same session. The only difference this time is that Bong have stumbled upon a theme that fits their music and have realised it beautifully – something indescribable and immeasurable that lets the listener disappear. The sense of listening to Thought and Existence may best be described by the narration at the beginning of “The Golden Fields”: “It happened as it always does in dreams. When you skip over space and time, and the laws of thought and existence, and only pause upon the points for which the heart yearns.” Such is the sense of blissful unreality when Bong are at their finest.