Monthly Archives: February 2016

Music of our time: GoGo Penguin

GoGo Penguin is a Manchester band, signed to the greatest jazz label in the world, Bluenote. They have just released their 3rd album, Man Made Object.

This is All Res.  Why does it sound, and feel, so good?

It’s not jazz.  It’s contemporary music.  Music of our time.  The soundtrack of our lives.  That’s more of a problem with our collective hang-ups about tagging genres than a comment about what Blue Note is best known for.

I imagine being a fly on the wall of the rehearsal room as they put together a new tune;  plenty of spontaneity, busking ideas, interplay, but the tunes are structured and arranged, I’m not hearing much space for improv in the finished article. And please, don’t tell me it’s all written in a sequencer, like the kids do now!

As with all new, original, unique music, it is a development of everything that has gone before.  They have ingested the music they love, and spat it out as the next step forward.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and that applies to the sound the trio make as well as their influences

So what can we hear in GoGo Penguin?

Jazz.  I’ll let you have that.  The drumming styles, the raw energy, complex grooves.  Compare GoGo Penguin with the Esbjörn Svensson Trio.  EST was jazz, GoGo Penguin has that breeding, plus social mobility.

Classical.  The thundering pianists – Rachmaninov, Listz, Beethoven – and the delicate piano composers too – Chopin, Debussy and his French mates.  And then hints of all the C20th classical heroes – Stravinsky,  Shostakovich, and the Brits, like Britten, Walton and Vaughan Williams.  The dynamics are ppp to fff.  Minimal to distortion, gradual rises and falls, sudden jumps and drops.  Listen to Unspeakable World or, frankly, any of the tunes.

Pop. Hooks.  Listen to the start of Quiet Mind.

Electronica. Surprising, for an acoustic trio, yet the sound they make (especially live) has the overpowering energry, the experimental edge of electronica.

Dance music.  Mad, drum’n’bass and trip hop stuff, looping grooves, building textures, short repeating riffs, breakdowns and build-ups.  Harmony is at times remarkly simple, they breaks free of chord sequences, playing loosely around a key.

English folk music. Simple, song like melodies, modal harmony, bitter-sweet moods, an organic sound. Listen to the piano melody in Initiate  and the bass at the start of Weird Cat.

Film music. (Cheap catch all, I know). Instantly appealing melodies that float over more complex accompaniment, musical language on many levels, juxtapositions of unlikely bed fellows all over the place.  Pick out any of the high piano melodies, often just a few notes, over a load of busy-ness.  And music in the movies is the one place where we don’t have hang-ups about genres, we accept eclecticism.

Experimental.  It’s not all grooving 4/4 you know, we’re teased with moments of free tempo and time signatures you’d struggle to transcribe, like the opening of All Res.

And despite finding this stuff to try and analyse, I just love how the music makes me feel good in a way I can’t explain.

If you like your music to absorb and inspire you, to lift you up, buy the album, and better still, go to a gig, where they turn it up loud and take you away.


Please read the Wall Street Journal review of this album by Jim Fusilli.