A Humdrum Star by GoGo Penguin

Release date: February 9, 2018
Label: Blue Note Records

Every fan of Manchester’s GoGo Penguin is acquainted with the look of bemusement from the unconverted when they mention the name of this nu jazz trio. It’s only once you are familiar with the band’s work that their title makes sense. GoGo Penguin are not trying to fit in with their prestigious Blue Note Records’ label mates, they have a quirky and unpretentious vision of jazz which joyfully embraces the visceral writing styles of electronic dance music. Through this approach they create something more accessible than is typical of either genre. Whilst there is plenty of craft and technical prowess displayed on A Humdrum Star, this an album for everyone – not just chinstrokers like me.

All three previous releases have seen the band open and lead with the most intense and driven elements of their music. This fourth record marks a more patient approach. ‘Bardo’ for example is a delicate and trance inducing track which incorporates unobtrusive electronic elements into their more typical analogue set up. When you hear how aptly the synths on this song accentuate the bowing and plucking rhythms of Nick Blacka’s double bass you’ll wonder why this approach is not more commonplace.

Opening track ‘Prayer’ is the only redundant song on the album. Much of what it achieves in atmospheric scene setting is covered by numerous other moments of the LP.

Large sections of this album could fool you into thinking it was bath music. That expectation would be scuppered by the exhilarating ‘Strid’ which chucks a toaster in the tub. I was so shaken by the mind melding and glitchy moments of this composition that I had to steady myself for the band’s next dramatic shift. The success of A Humdrum Star is that the band’s skittish and wild qualities are pulled into greater focus through being surrounded on all sides by moments of indulgent anticipation.

The second half of the album continues as a frenzied affair and is home to countless “punch the air” moments such as when the trio lock into Chris Illingworth’s distinctive looping piano melody on ‘Transient State’. Rob Turner’s impressive break beats lift the band’s overall sound, making it urgent and danceable. Nick Blacka plays tricky, quick repetitive bass lines which cut through and bolster everything.

This is certainly an album to be listened to in its entirety. I urge anyone curious about GoGo Penguin to play this record through the nicest sound system they have at their disposal.

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