Essential New Music: François J. Bonnet & Stephen O’Malley’s “Cylene II”

Have you heard the one about the composer/sound theorist who teamed up with a slow-motion metal guitarist? There you go, looking for punchlines involving the two of them walking into a bar. But there’s no such funny business on Cylene II, the latest recording by François J. Bonnet, who’s the director of the French National Audiovisual Institute and records ambient music under the name Kassel Jaeger, and Stephen O’Malley, who dons the robes in Sunn O))). It sounds seriously heavy but also quite distinct from the electro-acoustic environments and congealed rock music that its makers have devised in other settings. 

In fact, Bonnet and O’Malley have arrived at a point where it’s no longer apparent that they’re a duo. On their first album, 2019’s Cylene, Bonnet’s electronics and O’Malley’s guitar traded the roles of figure and ground. Sure, you can still tell that such sound sources are involved. But now, their individual contributions are so thoroughly fused that II’s explosions of brightness and cavernous low pitches feel less like acts of musicianly interaction than reports on the dimensions of a place so vast and distant that it operates according to different laws of physics. Or maybe even metaphysics. “Ghosts Of Precognition” sounds like the soundtrack to Dead Man if you could hear it as the film’s protagonist William Blake might remember it as he drifts from the sea of celluloid reality to the cold, dark banks of the Styx. [Drag City]

—Bill Meyer