Review Summary: A more than worthy follow-up to their meisterwerk.
So the question is an obvious one: just how do you follow up the album of the decade?
When 2005's still-incredible Nothing Lasts....But Nothing is Lost
dropped, the rumour was that, although Raja Ram and Simon Posford would continue to collaborate on other projects, Shpongle were going to call it a day. Rather than being a disappointment, it just made perfect sense - they had steadily improved over the course of their three albums, culminating in a release that they would obviously never improve upon. We weren't going to get any more Shpongle material, but they bowed out on the highest of all highs, and it's been tough not to look at some of the more disappointing albums released since then (Era Vulgaris
, Out of Control
), and wonder why more bands don't do that.
So when Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland
was announced, the excitement came tinged with fear. Where on Earth could they go from here? They could easily have tumbled from their lofty perch, and this album could easily have been a disaster.
So let's credit Posford and Ram for being smart enough to not even attempt a follow-up to Nothing Lasts
. As a matter of fact, Ineffable Mysteries
plays out as if their last album never even happened. This could even have been released immediately after Are You Shpongled?
- after the fanciful, sprawling, genre-spanning nature of the previous album, this is a conscious and deliberate return to the psytrance roots that spawned the band. The only concession to fans that might have been turned onto the band by their last album is the female vocal on "No Turn-Unstoned", which sounds curiously like Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Outside of that, three-minutes tracks are replaced with ten-minute ones, the mainstream-embracing sample of Ned Flanders is replaced with an obscure one of a recent contestant from the UK version of Big Brother, and an organic sound is replaced with possibly their most electronic material yet. Songs like "The Stamen of the Shamen" and "Inhalation" could quite happily have been played using only acoustic instruments, and perhaps were; no such thing is true here.
It's a very clever move, not just because it treats Nothing Lasts
as a one-off fluke, but because it also gets the band's original fanbase back on side, after the distant rumblings from some quarters complaining about their success. It also acts as a timely reminder that, when Shpongle stick to psytrance, they're simply the best. There've been some seriously great albums released in the genre since 2003's Tales of the Inexpressible
(a few of them involving Posford and Ram themselves), but this is still the best album of pure psytrance released since then - a record with so many brilliant touches it's difficult to take them all in. "Nothing Is Something Worth Doing" in particular stands out as the album's high watermark, a song that stands tall alongside "Dorset Perception" as one of their very greatest.
Another unmitigated triumph, then. They'd be the best electronic act of all time if it wasn't for those Germans and their pesky Autobahns.