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Bong > Idle Days on the Yann > Reviews > gasmask_colostomy
Bong - Idle Days on the Yann

Adrift on the fog-smothered river - 86%

gasmask_colostomy, October 26th, 2016

Way out there, far from all the metal bands they grew up listening to, are Bong. Situated in their unique musical realm (or Newcastle, as some call it), the Englishmen have veered away from their initially doomy stoner/drone leanings and forged ahead into pure ambiance and held-note dirges that might well sound like background noise at first.

Certainly, listening to the first minutes of this album, one might conclude that it's a field recording from a harbour or something like it, what with the steady boom of foghorns and echoey stirring of metallic clangs. However, as the song begins to develop, more elements come to the fore, such as the unnerving female voice that wails strangely familiar melodies from the distance. To be perfectly honest, I don't know what the Yann is, but going by the drawing of a ship on the album cover and the vibes from the music, I'm guessing it's a river and not any old river at that. The great heaves of distorted guitar noise roll out without gaps like unbroken water, while the sitar noisily fills up the front of the sound, the whole thing progressing numbly forwards into the fog. And there definitely is fog there to be seen, since there is an uneasy feeling of blindness to the song's progress, as if the ship is adrift on the Yann with no one to steer and no way of knowing its direction, just going further into the depths of the country. For anyone who has ever read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and remembers how they sail down the river with the foreboding jungle pressing in around them, that is exactly the same kind of journey I'm on as I listen to Idle Days on the Yann.

It may seem like I've been deciphering outwards from the album title thus far, but there's another element of it that seems pertinent apart from the suggestions of water and being hopelessly set adrift. That implication is that this experience goes on for days, although the album itself lasts only 41 minutes. With drone music, or any other atmospheric music for that matter, a composition's success must be measured by how great or little the feeling of encompassment is when listening: if the music manages to drag the listener in and extricate them from whatever is going on around them, then maintain that sense of place or spectacle or isolation or philosophy or whatever - that is successful. If the listener feels nothing, imagines nothing, experiences nothing, then the music has failed to impart itself. Previously, Bong had not been consistent in capturing the listener by the power and atmosphere of their music, but here there is a definite sense of pull almost from the start of the song, as the tension builds quickly instead of being introduced gradually, then in the second part the music drifts and frees much of the suspense.

Despite the fact that the album only contains one long song, the separation of it into two parts is a strategically sensible move that helps pinpoint the transition between moods, as well as making things simple for the vinyl edition. The second part of the song does not have quite the same Heart of Darkness vibe to it: the song reintroduces itself with more traditional band elements, including fairly steady drums and sweetly played guitar that sits atop the throbbing drone like sunlight beginning to burn through the fog and expose the wonders of the water and the land surrounding our boat. In ways reminiscent of many transcendental black metal songs of recent years, the guitar sometimes turns inwards to play an odd scale that darkly revisits the tension of the previous section, then escalates again into sublime wonder, eventually winding down to an ambiguous and uncertain end.

Both parts of the song are atmospheric and captivating, though the first - if less comfortable to listen to - leaves the stronger impression. Neither of those pieces change a great deal during their length, introducing elements for a long period and slowly shifting them either into a slight variant on their original shape or across the song and out the other side. There is still the slight feeling that Bong don't know where their ideas are headed, since the lack of progression even throughout such a long song would suggest that they envisaged no particular destination, which seems somewhat of a shame for such an intriguing journey. Idle Days on the Yann therefore isn't an entirely satisfying release, but it can certainly provide an expansive atmospheric space through which the listener can roam.