Shpongle - Nothing Lasts....But Nothing Is Lost
You probably weren't aware of it, but Nothing Lasts....But Nothing Is Lost is one of the most anticipated cult releases of this year. Since the formation of Shpongle in 1998, as a fun side-project for the two members, they've gone on to become one of the leading lights of psytrance/Goa, a genre of music that is to your common or garden-variety trance music what bop is to early jazz, or progressive rock is to early rock'n'roll, effectively. Though it's still definitely dancable, it's made to be really listened to.
Despite that, they occupy a strange place in the musical world. A few cursory visits to Psytrance and Goa sites will reveal a deep respect for Shpongle that verges on worship in a lot of cases. Having said that, their music brings in an awful lot that you'd never associate with trance music in a million years. At times, their songs feel like journeys throughout the indigenous folk music of the world - Indian, Asian, Eastern European....it's all there, right on the surface. They have a lot of recognizable elements of ambient music, too, and they use a lot of acoustic instruments too - certainly far more than any other electronic group I've heard. This is a product of the way the pair work - Raja Ram does the groundwork for the songs, before Simon Posford comes in and adds the electronics. They also have some outsider helpers, most notably Pete Callard, one of the tutors at the ACM, and a regular contributor to Total Guitar, Guitarist, and Guitar Techniques. Yes, Shpongle have some amazing guitar parts - and this is arguably their most guitar-driven record yet.
And so, to the record. You know what" I would have been more than happy with something that was just on a par with their previous effort, 2001's fantastic Tales Of The Inexpressible, but Shpongle went above and beyond with this. It's a massive statement to make so soon after the album's released, I know, but this only just falls short of being the single greatest dance album I've ever heard. And I mean, only just.
Essentially, the album's 20 tracks all form one long song. It's tempting to claim that there's a unifying concept to it, but since most of the tracks are instrumental, we can only really speculate. One thing we can say for sure, though, is that Shpongle have really expanded their sound here. Observe the opener, "Botanical Dimensions", which introduces new-age influences and recording of birds into their template, achieving an end result that sounds vaguely Oriental. It takes a while to get going, and is probably the album's weakest track, but it's a welcome ball from leftfield all the same.
Or, listen to a track like "When Shall I Be Free" - one of many 'what the hell was that"' moments on the record. What it was was the catchiest guitar hook you will ever hear in a trance record - until you get to the lead break in "The Nebbish Route", that is. It doesn't appear until about a minute in, though, before which is some Eno-esque ambience based on treated vocal samples, building up to the main bulk of the song. After embedding the main riff into your head like a harpoon, the guitar embellishes the theme, before the etheral vocal reappears, after which more vocals are introduced, this time with lyrics and everything - it's the only thing on the album you might describe as a chorus, in the popular sense. It's the darkest thing Shpongle have ever done, and as it segues into the brass-driven, reggae-tinged "The Stamen Of The Shaman", you're tempted to claim it's the best thing they've ever done, too. That's before you get to the beautiful closer, "Falling Awake", which shows what they can do with just acoustic guitars and their imaginations. This track could easily have shown up on one of the John McLaughlin/Paco De Lucia/Al Di Meola Guitar Trio albums - I wasn't kidding about the awesome guitar parts, kids. Whoever it sounds like, it doesn't sound like Shpongle. It just sounds incredible.
See if you catch the sly Massive Attack sample on "Linguistic Mystic" - it steals the bassline from "Safe From Harm" - and the less subtle Ned Flanders sample at the end of "Connoisseur Of Hallucination", too. Those are the only external samples I noticed on the whole album, which is pretty good going considering the length and intensity of the album.
The only complaints I've seen raised against the album is that Raja's trademark flute is under-used, and the stutter sound-effect is over-used. To be honest, I never even noticed that the flute was missing, and it does still get a workout on "Mentalism" and "The Nebbish Route", not to mention the absolutely gorgeous "Exhalation". And as for the stutter" I look to it as a Shpongle trademark after Tales Of The Inexpressible (especially "Dorset Perception"), and to be blunt, they used it more on that album than they do on this one.
Shpongle's website has announced this as 'the third and final installment'. If that's the case, they couldn't have found a better way to go out. Nothing Lasts....But Nothing Is Lost feels like the perfect distillation of everything they've been trying to do all along. Every time I hear this it gets better, and I certainly can't see myself getting sick of this for a very long time. If there's any justice, this album's legacy will just grow and grow. The only thing stopping this record from getting the full 5 is that it's so new, and I'm not prepared to pump in full marks to a record that's barely 3 days old. Otherwise, this is practically perfect. Shpongle outdid themselves here, and in doing so they've set a benchmark - both for their genre, and for any new release in 2005 - that is going to be very, very hard to beat.
Within The Genre - 5/5
Outside The Genre - 4.5/5
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