Swoosh!

Reposted from my original blog, September, 2010

Artist: Sphongle
Album: Are You Shpongled?
Released: 1998 (originally, multiple reissues)
Genre: Ambient, tribal, trance ambient, psyche ambient

I’m twelve years late on getting this album, mostly because it was always so hard to find and terribly overpriced when I did find it. That has to be one of the most infuriating things about music… just when you want it the most, it goes out of print and the price goes up.

A friend of mine was able to get his hands on the band’s first single, “Divine Moments of Truth” which originally came out around 1998 as well. We both spun it at his place in the summer of 2003, and we were spellbound. This was something musically sacred we were hearing.

Fast forward to today, and you’ll find me casually strolling the mall with my girlfriend. We wander into FYE, looking for a copy of an old Hitchcock film when I finally stumbled onto this CD, and numerous others by Shpongle. I didn’t really believe it at first. Once I realized that I wasn’t dreaming, the irony of it all hit me. The price wasn’t set at a collector’s price, but was still pretty high, being FYE…

I bought and played on the way to work. Some reviews claim that this particular album was and still is one of the most influential electronic albums of all time, especially for the genre.

Track one opened slowly, with deep ambient sounds eventually giving way to vocal samples and an interesting beat, something that I found out of the norm for an ambient or tribal track. It was almost like a slowed down break beat.

The tracks came in and out. Each one had a nice, well balanced fusion between ambient, tribal and psyche-trance with a hefty amount of organic and authentic instruments.

In retrospect, this was something I had heard before on other albums. I couldn’t help but think of some tracks by Astralasia, Juno Reactor, certain Eat Static tracks and maybe even a bit of Ambient Temple of Imagination, only with less drone. Many times, this fusion seemed too much. Some tracks/albums of this kind are just over-produced. Others sound like the real instruments were competing with the electronics and synth. And others, still, just sound like the two don’t belong together. Here, with no real noticeable exception, the balance works perfectly.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Juno Reactor’s “Bible of Dreams’ or even “Shango”, however, those tend to be more on the trance side of things, even hinting at ‘goa’ at times. Shpongle keeps their distance and doesn’t overwhelm the listener with its mix of genres, and somehow, manages to stay fresh despite the number of other albums in the same genre at the time that were pining for the spotlight.

Going back to the point about this album being influential, I would argue that in fact, it is. This album doesn’t drown anything out and does accomplish what it set out to do, which was to combine elements of ambient, trance and tribal music with elements of acoustic and wind instruments (along with tribal, cultural and digital vocal samples) and create a harmony between them all. The production quality is amazing, and the musical quality is top notch.

However, calling this psychodelic ambient is a bit of a put off. When I hear that term, I think of this sort of mindless, out of control synth mixed in with tribal bits to create this fast paced blur, leaving the listener feeling like he/she’s brain has leaped out of their head into some other dimension, perhaps for its own ssafety. Other times, I feel like the term was created just to promote the use of hallucinogens at parties or at home, claiming it was what the ‘ancients’ did.

While shamans of some cultures popped mushrooms to speak tothe spirits, I think sometimes this genre simply uses the image of the mushroom to lure in the listener with the promise of a trip, even if the music isn’t all that great. So, obviously, I’ve kept my distance from the genre because of its intentional or unintentional marketing. At least here, I can take comfort in knowing that Shpongle didn’t take the dive into that selling point. They rely on the music and a huge outpouring of “hey, did you hear this band’s stuff before?” coming from the underground.

So, all in all, I give this album 4.5 stars out of 5.

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About Nick H.

I'm a geek for music whether it be on vinyl, CD, 78 or whatever. My goal is to sniff out the greated music on Earth, specializing in the obscure. I make music myself as well, mostly ambient and sound collage (1 album out and a few remixes so far). I work full time as a professional mascot (it pays the pills) but will soon retire, i hope.
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