11 September 2014

Gogo Penguin - v2.0


So here we are with the Mercury Music Prize reviews again.  This year we are off to a quick start with two of the albums already being reviewed.  To be honest, this year's list has thrown up some puzzling choices (and so criminal omissions - Sleaford Mods should have been nominated!!); but the strangest thing about the nominations is the inclusion of three jazz albums.  Now, I would like to point out that I do not have a problem with jazz music what so ever; my favourite artist Frank Zappa was well known for his jazz leaning and there are some beautiful jazz records in my collection.  However, three being nominated for this prize the biggest showing for the British jazz scene.  One of the acts that have been nominated is Gogo Penguin, a jazz trio from Manchester who look so young to be making jazz music.  It is refreshing to see these men making something other than angry rock or strange dubstep/grime music.  But there youthful look will have nothing to do with the music, that will have to stand up for itself; it might have been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, but let’s see what it sounds like.

The opening track is called "Murmuration"; this is a gentle and progressive opening to this album.  Lead from the beginning by piano player Chris Illingworth, bass player Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner are given licence to fly and also give Illingworth support during this opening number.  Starting with the drums, it final opens very gently and give the audience time to adjust to the number. There is always one person in the band holding the rest of the act together at any one given time, allowing the others to shine and this is sometimes forgotten in Jazz.  It feels reminisce to Sigur Rós in places and is a very good opening track.  The superbly titled "Garden Dog Barbecue" is a much more energetic number in comparison.  You have a truly standard jazz number with the piano sounding like a dancing maniac (there is some passages in this song which would have had Frank Zappa wishing he had wrote it), a drummer who sounds like he is playing for Aphex Twin or Rob Logan and the bass player is the lynch pin in this whole song; he is just driving this song and the others are just let loose on the world.  Third track "Kamaloka" bring the tempo down slightly; but only slightly as Rob Turner's drumming is still on fire.  Very much like "Murmuration" (and each of the tracks), each of the members have their own opportunity to fly in places.  It is a fairly easy piece in jazz terms, but do not mistake easy for being simple.  Compared to many of the acts gracing the charts, it is as complex as a Steve Vai solo.  Three tracks in and all is well.

"Fort" follows on from "Kamaloka", which starts off with a Ben Folds feel; to be honest this stops after a few moments when the full band start to play, delving into their collective melting pot of musical influences and making a beautiful piece of music that is incredibly easy on the ear.  As a jazz piece, the main work on this song is by Nick Blacka who is a powerhouse on this track.  The most pleasing thing on this piece has to be the bass playing and this is not to say the work of Messrs Illingworth and Turner are phoning it in, they are off on a wild wondering path that is equally as great; it is just a complete pleasure that the bass is not mixed into the background like I have heard on some tracks.  "One Percent" is the next song is a complex little number compared to some of the tracks that have gone before.  On this track, the holding pattern is shared between each of the band in different sections, making it feel like a drifting track and the focus is always shifting.  Each man is on fire on this number, just like they have been since the album started.  "Home" is the sixth track from the album, starting with a bass solo from Mr Blacka, then comes in Mr Illingworth and his piano and the number slowly takes form when Mr Turner joins the party.  At this point, there is a familiar pattern forming with this number, also it is following on from the high water mark of "One Percent"; it is a decent and well played piece, but not nearly as good as what has passed beforehand for me at least.

"The Letter" is a slow opening tune; it does not have the natural energy that has been causing through the previous tracks of the album.  This makes for a more sombre and slightly sinister number compared to the other pieces, it does not take away from the album as some slower number do on other works.  It actually makes for a natural pause and with some beautiful passages it is another brilliant moment on this album.  "To Drown In You" has another subtle opening, but the drumming is more frantic on this number; Mr Turner is on display on this number, with Messrs Illingworth and Black lacing over his drumming with an ease that is rarely heard from such youthful people (if your reading this Gogo Penguin - this is not a dig at your age, just so you know).  "Shock And Awe" is penultimate number of the album, again this has a slightly sinister edge to it with the drums being kept to a minimal click on the side of a snare (I imagine) and the odd hit of the snare, whilst Messr Blacka drops the odd note and holds the tone with a bow.  It feels like the end of a play and the casts are heading off in new directions, the mournful nature of the track is quite engaging but also haunting as well.  Ending this album is "Hopopono" starts off in a very subtle; it is not exactly what I could have expected.  It is not by any means as desolate and sinister as "Shock And Awe", but after that start the pace picks up a little and it ends on a more pleasant note then the start of the song would have suggested.

As jazz goes, this is fairly easy going; yet I can really see the influence of the UK electronica scene on this band.  There are passages which remind me of various acts such as the aforementioned Aphex Twin, there was a brief moment that reminded me of The Bug in terms of music (but without the harsh electronica noise).  This is why I have added the electronica label, as it is clearly an influence on this work.  The members of the band are really talented musicians and have made a beautiful piece of work that as an album is incredibly easy on the ear in places.  It has a limited crossover appeal, but this does not take away from the performance. I am also not 100% sure that I will be going out of my way to hear it again, but it is a good record and if it ended up winning the Mercury Prize I would not be disappointed.

7 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check

Top track - One Percent 

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Gogo Penguin website here

You can visit the Gogo Penguin's page on Bandcamp here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you

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