Review Summary: Edging ever closer to euphoria.
It wouldn't be difficult to say that GoGo Penguin occupies a league of their own when it comes to their take on Jazz. Without a doubt, their style is primarily jazz, but with it comes infusions of classical, various electronic genres and even trip-hop. Perhaps a rudimentary exemplification of such style would be ‘Garden Dog Barbecue’, from their previous effort, v2.0
, with its soaring double bass, explosively energetic piano chords and arpeggios and the strangely perfect blend of a drum & bass beat at its core. In addition to this, everything was held together within a very acoustic soundscape, which simply did wonders in allowing them to craft a truly intimate feel to their sound. Their unwavering talent is apparent and has been firmly established, and now with their third full-length effort, Man Made Object
, they not only refine their current abilities, but also venture into new territory leading to more grandiose results.
Immediately the most striking thing about Man Made Object
is the difference in chemistry between the band members. Although they claim that no instrument, nor member is dominant, much of their previous work was heavily written around the piano. Most of Man Made Object
is still written around the piano but there’s undeniably more balance present, with the dominant instrument throughout shifting with greater frequency. As a result, tracks like 'Smarra' and 'Protest' arise, which are both driven by rapid bass plucking and drumming that lends itself less from jazz and more from rock. Piano is still very prevalent, but it’s the drumming that completely steals the spotlight on both of these tracks, starting off rather simple but becoming more aggressive, more technically complex, increasing its intensity at an exponential rate and almost being breakcore-esque at times, soaring to incredible heights. It’s at these moments where GoGo Penguin are at their finest; using each member adequately with balance and resulting in not just two magnificent album climaxes, but also their career climax.
In contrast, the vast majority of the album is in vein to v2.0
, but with a much more adventurous, yet polished flavour. The inclusion of the bowed double-bass is a huge welcome, adding an extra layer of atmosphere to many tracks that their previous work simply did not offer. Subsequently, even the lesser tracks feel more grand, not just in size alone but also in ambition. Tracks such as 'All Res' and 'Surrender to Mountain' are tracks with greater emphasis on subtlety and emotion, which is only augmented with a larger atmosphere. Conversely, 'Unspeakable World' exhibits their ambition by allowing other influences to bleed through in obvious fashion. A strong prog influence is being showcased, in this instance, which superbly adds the plethora of styles to embrace, topping everything off with a fitting build up that’s withdrawn instantaneously.
With that being said, it’s a shame to have to acknowledge the existence of unfortunate periods that past by without much interest. It’s not even a lack of interest as a listener, sometimes GoGo Penguin don’t even seem to be engaged in their own music. Particular offenders include 'Gbfisyih' and 'Weird Cat'. The former feels like a bored and lacklustre performance that was spewed out of the practice room much too quickly whilst the latter, to its credit, does build well but lacks direction and ends up sounding pretty meaningless as a whole. However, by far the worst offender is without question 'Quiet Mind'. Quite the black sheep on the album, it’s horrendously cheesy and cringe-inducing the majority of the time. It would have no qualms slotting itself in the background of a glossy camera advert but given what this band capable of, it just feels like a forced effort to create a track that would most likely be popular.
I recall pondering to myself prior to this listen if the highs of v2.0
would even be touched by Man Made Project
, let alone bettered. With a naturally pessimistic attitude, I approached with caution only to be astonished by the new world offered to me by this album. All the fantastic, mesmerising elements from v2.0
were taken, enhanced and improved upon for Man Made Project
. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous, well put together and a very coherent piece of work. Whilst there may be a few tracks that are more miss than hit, for the most part, GoGo Penguin have definitely excelled in their capabilities creating an album with more ideas, more variety and more overall depth. At this point, a fascinating thought would be what approach will they take after such an effort, but maybe the truth is that it probably doesn’t matter. What probably does matter instead is realising how GoGo Penguin are slowly, but surely edging one step closer to blissful euphoria.