Album Review: Bonzo – “With Your Belly”

Bonzo is a band from Ann Arbor, Michigan. The project is the brainchild of singer/guitarist/songwriter John Sciortino, and he would very much like you to go to more shows in Ann Arbor.

It can be hard to cultivate a music scene in a college town, especially one with such an identity crisis as Ann Arbor. The city, like the university which basically owns it, is difficult to penetrate, and due to its overwhelming economic inequality and housing problems, is even harder to remain a part of once you’ve established yourself.

When I first met John as a student in the early 2010’s, I was struggling to find a place within the city’s music scene, and one of the only places with any good music to speak of was the university’s infamous “Metal Frat”, a misnomer for the house where all the punks and alternative kids live and where most notable house shows are thrown. From those early days, I remember Sciortino, drummer Maya Chun, and former bassist Mac Porter as being deeply involved with the house.

Throughout 2012-2014, the scene at the house was rife with activity from emo/indie darlings like Pity Sex, Brave Bird, and Dads. But by the time Bonzo began in 2014, those projects and the energy they generated seemed to have died off. It was a disappointing time for fans of more accessible forms of underground music, but the void created opportunity for the dark, experimental stylings of Sciortino’s songwriting to take the reigns.

If you’re looking for an approachable and lighthearted experience, With Your Belly is not an album for you. Though none of them pass the four-minute mark, each of the eleven tracks flow through each other in a pulsating, dreamlike wash with enough moments of jarring dissonance, spastic rhythmic explosions, and impenetrable vocals to balance out every instance a catchy motive is dangled in front of the listener. For example, the fourth track, “Team”, trades straightforward major-key shoegazing which could be a satisfying song in its own right for a ghostly, withering B section that brings to mind the biggest ambient black metal-worshipping moments in any maudlin of the Well release.

Clever reversals of expectation like this are peppered throughout the album, and though the listener will be trained to expect them well in advance, this doesn’t detract from how enjoyable these moments can be. It shows a maturity of craft from Sciortino and equally-formidable songwriting partner Maya Chun to feature experimentation which doesn’t push the listener away but invites their engagement and keeps them guessing. Some of it, like the seriously feisty free-jazz drumming on the album’s closer, is just flat-out fun.

It goes without saying that With Your Belly is a staggeringly well-composed body of work, so much so that it can make previous efforts like Stranger and 88.3 seem like trial runs of the concepts which are on prominent display here. But that’s the exact kind of problem a band should want to have on their fourth album. If previous releases showcased ideas which had yet to be fully realized, I am excited about what Belly means for Bonzo’s musical trajectory.

With Your Belly is ambitious, and I’d expect nothing less from an album that takes its title from dialogue in The Brothers Karamazov. “You don’t love those things with reason, with logic, you love them with your innards, with your belly, and that’s also how you love your own first youthful strength.” With this release, Bonzo finds its strength from the elements of what came before and fully embraces it. They are a band to be reckoned with, and if With Your Belly isn’t proof of that, I dare you to go to more shows in Ann Arbor and find out for yourself.

-a

  1. u wish
  2. breath
  3. belly
  4. team
  5. leaper
  6. godstopper
  7. used
  8. sink in
  9. packy east
  10. rock salt
  11. u feel pt. 2

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