In forming the psychedelic duo Shpongle, UK musician Simon Posford was one of the first psychedelic trance artists to go beyond the occasional downtempo or chillout track among an otherwise uptempo repertoire of dance music. Away from the demands of the dancefloor, he and bandmate Raja Ram are free to draw on whatever inspires them and play at whatever tempo they like.

artist:
Shpongle

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Ambient trance/techno, psytrance, ethno-ambient, world beat

decades active:
90's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Are You Shpongled? (1998, Twisted)
  • Tales Of The Inexpressible (2001, Twisted)
  • Nothing Lasts But Nothing Is Lost (2005, Twisted)
  • Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland (2009, Twisted)

Reviewed by Mike G

In forming the psychedelic duo Shpongle, UK musician Simon Posford was one of the first psychedelic trance artists to go beyond the occasional downtempo or chillout track among an otherwise uptempo repertoire of dance music. Away from the demands of the dancefloor, he and bandmate Raja Ram are free to draw on whatever inspires them and play at whatever tempo they like, creating a fantastic psychedelic sound world, music born of electronic dance music but not confined to it. Terms like "global fusion" barely scratch the surface. From blistering Brazilian beats to massive trancey dub, from Indonesia to the Middle East, from soothing environmental ambience to intense and complex walls of sound; Shpongle's universe is almost limitless. Posford and Ram both have other lives - as Hallucinogen, 1200 Micrograms and other monikers - but it's together as Shpongle that they shine brightest.

Shpongle's first four albums remain classics of chillout electronica. Several since then are less remarkable, but most fans will be happy to have all of them anyway.

The debut album Are You Shpongled (1998) is a prototype of sorts for chillout music from the psy scene and has inspired many since, initially bands like Entheogenic and many of the artists featured on the seminal Global Psychedelic Chill Out series from Spiritzone Records. Each track on Are You Shpongled is different from the last. Melody is never far away and Raja Ram's flute playing is sweet and beautifully timed, never lapsing into over-extended soloing. "Beyond Closed Eyelids" is a brilliant push-and-pull marriage of the frantic, layered melodies typical of Posford's dancefloor productions with deeper, contemplative passages of synth chords and flute. The 20-minute "And The Day Turned Into Night" is similarly dynamic except this time with the clattering, hyperactive patterns of drum 'n' bass played off against opening and closing passages of gently droning Eastern sounds.

Tales Of The Inexpressible (2001) is even better, though initially it may sound downright shocking to those who took the serious tone of the first album to be essentially Shpongle. The second album's feel is sometimes completely different. Tracks like "A New Way To Say Hooray" and "My Head Feels Like Frisbee" are full of quirky humour and celebratory melodies. Tales is also more wildly eclectic than its predecessor, establishing its free-for-all spirit on the uptempo flamenco guitar grooves of the opening "Dorset Perception". Despite all the light-heartedness, however, there is depth aplenty and the album successfully works on a number of levels. Binding it all together are Posford's quite astonishing programming and arranging abilities, especially his gift for morphing through different time signatures and drum patterns and leaving you guessing where the transitions actually occur. There are also layers upon layers of sonic detail to uncover on repeated listens.

The appeal to ambient fans of the third album Nothing Lasts but Nothing Is Lost (2005) is that, while it's not particularly downtempo and much of is not strictly ambient, its 20 bite-size tracks are still loaded with ambience. As with Tales of The Inexpressible, the studio craft is outstanding and the duo's playfulness comes to the fore once again via a myriad of trippy vibrato, time-stretch and varispeed effects. A few sequences of epic ambient breakbeat suggest that Sasha's opus Airdrawndagger (2002) may have rubbed off on the pair, but Shpongle's music remains so madly eclectic that trying to distill their sources is a rather pointless exercise. At any rate, it's another blindingly good release.

Never a band in a hurry, a four year gap separates Nothing Lasts and the epic Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland (2009). It actually makes a perfect introduction to Shpongle's universe, combining the longer track times of the first album with the richer colours and textures of the others. The band's downtempo side reasserts itself here brilliantly. "Nothing Is Something Worth Doing" is a fragile, breathtakingly beautiful tapestry of guitar harmonics and Balinese gamelan. "Invisible Man In A Fluorescent Suit" starts like a Philip Glass soundtrack with hypnotic, spinning cello motifs before moving through a series of shifting, exquisitely layered melodies and a slow-ish rhythm that rises and falls with varying intensity. Over a decade on from their debut album you might still call Shpongle's music psytrance, but not as we know it, Jim.

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