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Bonnacons Of Doom
Bonnacons of Doom JR Moores , June 20th, 2018 08:09

The bonnacon was a mythical beast from the Middle Ages which defended itself from pursuers by spraying caustic faeces out of its furry anus

In his memoir Jolly Lad, Quietus co-honcho John ‘Babadook’ Doran muses on the differences between Liverpool and Manchester - cities which are just 35 miles apart but have noticeably different cultural vibes. Doran (who is from Rainhill, near St Helens) posits that Liverpool is more insular and conceived by its residents as an almost abstract notion; Liverpool, he says, is essentially the community that lives there. Mancunians, on the other hand, are attached to the place itself: the buildings, their bricks, the architecture and the industry of their city. Both places have hosted significant numbers of Irish immigrants but the Celtic character has had greater impact on the Scouse personality. Manchester remains relatively Protestant in nature.

As such, Liverpool's musical contributions have been more “warm-hearted, psychedelic, and romantic” (see The Beatles, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Mighty Wah! and The Zutons), whereas Manchester's sound tends to be “urgent, intellectual and dark-hearted” like The Smiths, Joy Division and Simply Red. All this intersects with each city's respective drug culture: Merseyside being principally an LSD and marijuana kind of a place; Manchester more inclined to ecstasy and speed.

Doran's theories ring true in the submissions to my Columnfortably Numb psych column. Those that come from bands of the Greater Manchester area tend to have a dark and foreboding edge to them (Gnod are a fine example). Either that, or they suffer from the problem that no amount of reverb and echo can hide the fact that their songwriting and vocal style remains besotted with the late 80s and early 90s indie scene. These latter examples, every one of which resembles a ropey High Flying Birds demo tape, do not pass muster. There are plenty of Liverpudlian bands that suffer from their own nostalgic hang-ups of course. But it is also the city that birthed the proggy and space-rockin' Mugstar, which Manchester never could have done.

All of which leads us to Bonnacons Of Doom. This semi-mysterious collective are Liverpool-based but its members boast Yorkshire and Lancashire roots. Using this mish-mash of regional identities, their aim is “to achieve a kind of Transpennine hypnotic music”. To add further to the cross-region pollination, their album was recorded at the Suburban Home studio which is in Leeds, a city possessed of its own distinctive milieu - one that is best epitomised by Chumbawamba.

“I get knocked down / But I get up again,” sings the Bonnacons’ Kate Smith in direct and affectionate homage to her heroes. Not really. Her group's sound owes little to the North’s favourite tubthumpin’ anarchists. Their name is slightly misleading, however, as the band’s style is neither very doomy or particularly flatulent. (The bonnacon was a mythical beast from the Middle Ages which defended itself from pursuers by spraying caustic faeces out of its furry anus.) Having said that, ‘Rhizone’ is psychedelic in a pretty spiky and lumbering way, almost no-wave as it bludgeons its listener into seeing stars. Similarly, the song preceding it is fiercely claustrophobic, like the seven-minute midsection of a Swans track when Gira has turned his back to the audience and you begin to wonder whether there are any eccles cakes left in the cupboard for when you get home.

More fun - and therefore arguably more Liverpudlian - are the album highlights ‘Solus’, ‘Argenta’ and ‘Plantae’. Across these three heady mind-melters, the musicians conjure up some unusually insistent and nicely layered space-psych jams. They have an improvisational feel but one that doesn't get too unwieldy or indulgent. I have not seen Bonnacons Of Doom perform live (yet) but were you to stick them on a bill with Flowers Must Die and Goat in an atmospheric underground bunker somewhere, every broadminded hep kook who attended the jamboree would leave with their cerebral sinuses freshly cleansed. I hear the Bonnacons wear robes and shiny round hubcap-like masks, which sounds completely appropriate.

Kate Smith brings gothic authority and a shamanic vocal dexterity to these cuts by shifting between yodel, yelp, chant and wail. The overall effect is a little like hearing cult English alt-rockers Queen Adreena collaborating with Eternal Tapestry (from Portland), Causa Sui (Denmark), Carlton Melton (California) and Föllakzoid (Chile).

Hypnotic, then? Yes. Transpennine? I suppose so, although Bonnacons Of Doom also appear to be reaching out across the Atlantic with one arm, over the Channel with the other, and perhaps out into space with a multi-dimensional third arm that also acts as a telescopic eye and is beckoning the aliens to beam down and join us for a bit of a ‘happening’.