Madfish [Release date 10.11.14]
Daevid Allan’s Gong unexpectedly return with a musically complex album, full of biting lyrics and dense but enjoyable music that straddles the jazz and psychedelic, space-rock divide.
‘I See You’ has internationalist message and an ideological bent, on a coherent musical re-statement of Gong’s original hippie principals, as the spirit of universality is voiced over jazz fusion and space rock workouts.
Given the involvement of Daevid’s son Orlando on drums, this is arguably the next step in the band’s legacy. Where Steve Hillage used to sing; ‘The answer was there all the time, in the music’, this album is more introspective as Daevid looks to “our true selves”.
The album updates the band’s historical and musical lineage. It reaches back to the early career whimsy of ‘Flying Teapot’ and ‘Angel’s Egg’, with occasional flashes of the space-fusion era of ‘You’, the later jazz rock of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong and the broader stylistic sweep of ‘2032’.
‘I See You’ feels as if the band has completed a long musical journey and have finally settled in a spacey, jazz-fusion groove, while quietly eschewing Hillage’s Trance and dance beats.
The current line-up features founder members, guitarist and vocalist Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth vocals, Orlando Allen on drums, former Cardiacs guitarist Kavus Torabi, Ian East on horns, Dave Sturt on bass and samples, and Brazilian guitarist Fabio Golfetti. The septet have somehow combined their collective audio files to make a coherent album out of constituent parts assembled in Australia, Brazil, Israel and the UK
The album opens with the spoken word collage and dissonant jazz of the title track, all interlinked voices, horns, staccato guitar parts and synth swirls with characteristic trippy vocals.
‘Occupy’ evokes King Crimson with its frenetic horn-led opening and lightning time changes, before a contrasting dreamy Floydian resolution. It’s a style they return to on the fragmented musical puzzle of the band penned sister track ‘You See Me’.
‘When God Shakes Hands With The Devil’ features a Daevid Allen rap with a Tull style progression, a doctored voice on the chorus and glistening, trippy guitars and flute
The spacey ‘The Eternal Wheel Spins’ could be Hawkwind, and is notable for its double tracked vocals and angular guitar from Fabio Golfetti. His glissando guitar work is tempered by bone crunching riffs, before he soars above a ripping rhythm section and flute, on the closest the band get to space rock. His second buzz-tone solo is dazzling and takes the song to a higher level. It’s an album highlight that connects seamlessly with the Gong’s musical legacy.
Both the whimsical intro and stop-start and tic-toc rhythms of ‘Syllabub’ and the Gentle Giant feel of the exquisitely punned title ‘Pixielation’ could have come from the ‘Flying Teapot’ era. And while there’s no disputing the quality of the compositions or tight playing, the question remains as to whether there’s still a market for complex music like this?
Allen helpfully offers the listener a guiding hand with his own post Gill Scott-Heron mission statement on ‘This Revolution’: “This revolution will not sit on your hard drive, or be seen on CCTV or viewed on MTV. You will not find the android apps for this revolution”, voiced over some sonorous horns and spacey arcs.
‘Thank You’ is a hypnotic mantra style drone with synth guitar that could easily be Steve Hillage, before a sludgy progression leads us to a chant style vocals that on any other album might well have been the closing track.
But there’s still time for the atmospheric, ambient soundscapes of the instrumental ‘Shakti Yoni & Dingo Virgin’, complete with Gilli’s space whispers. The slowly evolving sound loops sound like a cross between Tangerine Dream and Eno and may or may not be about sexual self empowerment.
‘I See You’ is a remarkable return to form and proof that in between the hippy ideology there was always some great music just waiting to be explored. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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