Manchester-based jazztronica band GoGo Penguin has made more jazztronica. The group, noted especially for previous efforts Man Made Object and the Mercury-nominated v2.0, have continued to refine their unique sound on the latest effort. Not too much changes in the way of tone or songwriting; you can expect to come across the same break-beats and arching piano harmonies present on earlier works. And yet, the group feels fresh and progressive; new rhythmic corners are explored, new techniques are exploited, new tones are produced. And they all sound fantastic.
The group remains ridiculously tight. The track “Transient State” showcases their incredible ability to cram into the pocket as a group, melding a dynamically-expressive drumline with a heavily-syncopated double bass riff and stacks of glitchy keyboard chords on top, weaving from idea to idea with an uncanny sharpness of purpose and a next-level virtuosity.
“Strid’s absolutely wavy double bass harmonics have an unreal, ethereal timbre”
The band pushes forward with strange new ideas. “Strid” has some absolutely wavy double bass harmonics at the end - the timbre of which is unreal. There’s crunchy, compressed piano on “Reactor” that hits just the right spot. On the aforementioned “Transient State”, there’s a break 4 minutes or so in, where the (fuzzed) bassline takes up a single tone in a polyrhythmic fashion - it sounds like they’ve drawn influence from fellow Manchester act Tesseract in particular (new album out in April who up), and the whole djent movement as a whole, which caught me quite by surprise (djent’s delicious, y’all). Ideas and themes from traditional African drumming to video game music are explored on this album, in great detail.
But there is a special kind of minimalism to GoGo Penguin compositions, wherein each instrument will pick up a refrain and slowly nurture it, creating an intricate interplay between each band member, and through minute variations builds incredibly dense harmony in the no-mans-land between the performers. Inclined to be mercurial, glitches and breaks will often set a bandmember off, and the old refrain is ditched in favor of something newer, spicier, sharper. And so the band propels itself through piece after piece, stunning block chords relenting to the pull of a driving bassline of squirrly drum fill, always coherent, always with harmony as the foremost goal. The new album is a fresh and welcome addition to the GoGo Penguin discography, complementing the previous work with new ideas and sounds that do nothing but enhance the band. See y’all for the next one, everyone.
A Humdrum Star
Artist: GoGo Penguin. Label: Blue Note. Top Tracks: Raven, Transient State, Window. For Fans Of: Snarky Puppy, Bent Knee, BADBADNOTGOOD. 51 minutes