It was precisely 1 minute 33 seconds into track 3 (Nothing Is Something Worth Doing) on Shpongle’s latest album when I was first Shpongled.
This is the moment that a refrain, sounding like a gently played steel drum, enters to transform a pleasant chill out tune into something truly sublime and transporting.
This is just one of many highlights on Ineffable Mysteries From Shpongleland that, against all expectations, I have fallen head over heals in love with. It’s made me go Shpongle crazy and track down their back catalogue (three albums, one record of remixes and bootlegs) – I’ve even signed up to the Shpongle group on Last.Fm.
I have led a sheltered life when it comes to house music. Perhaps this is why I had not previously heard that Psychedelic was blendable with other words to make sub-genres of Psytrance, Psychill or Psybient. All of these awkward sounding terms have been applied to Shpongle at some point or other but none quite nail their music or help explain its appeal to listeners like me who weren’t raised on raves.
A clue to the hypnotic power lies in the bold and straight faced naming of Steve Reich, Mike Oldfield and Batman as key influences. All of these connections do actually make sense when you hear the record – the Reich link, for instance, is particularly evident on the opening to the impressively titled Invisible Man In A Fluorescent Suit.
You could also add the likes of Nitin Sawhney, The Orb and Doctor Who to this list without fear of going out on a limb. These are tunes which contain an inspired time travelling mash-up of styles with substance. Notably this comes through the marriage of Asian classical and western trance-dance music to form glitched raga beats. Just to keep you guessing, these are further merged with New Age, lounge and techno grooves.
The shortest of the 8 tracks is just under six and a half minutes so each has time to evolve slowly. Organic layers of sound are gradually added and none of the shifts of pitch or mood strike the listener as harsh or arbitrary.
Shpongle’s core members are English electronica musician/producer Simon Posford (aka Hallucinogen) and Australian flautist Raja Ram (real name Ronald Rothfield) who – fittingly enough given their cosmic aspirations – formed a partnership in 1996 after witnessing a solar eclipse together in India. The tune they wrote documenting this bonding experience was called ‘… And The Day Turned To Night’ which appeared on the debut 1998 album ‘Are You Shpongled’?’
By the way, if you’re wondering what or who a Shpongle is, then Raja Ram enlightens us by revealing that the word was conjured up as an umbrella term meaning that which could be used for nurturing positive and euphoric emotions. It identifies a musical language of its own as now documented by the inclusion of the track ‘Shpongolese Spoken Here’ on the ‘Ineffable Mysteries’ album. Once you’ve entered this sonically induced realm you will even forgive occasional cheesiness in the form of lounge rhythms and bland lyrics like “You are me and I am you, I will always be with you’ (I AmYou) . The payoff comes elsewhere in the form of inspired beats and witty samples of dialogue stirred in to the heady mix (Examples: “Oh God! My Grandmother would kill me!” ; “I ain’t going mental!”).
The closest thing to a title track is the ten minute plus ‘Ineffable Mysteries’ and not a bad starting point if you’re seeking a one stop intro to Shpongleland. It begins with a jumble of indisguishable chatter but this crossed line clears to make way for a spiritual drone which then morphs into sampled Indian vocals and Ram’s flute playing to combine a mix of mantric calm and frenzied hooks.
Another Shpongle inspiration , according to their My Space page is the late comic genius Bill Hicks who, in his rants about the state of the planet was not given to sentimentalism. Hicks once said : “All matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves”.
Unwittingly , this succeeds in summing up the musical philosophy behind Posford and Ram’s blissed out musical creations. In other words, the message is plain – follow the path of these vibrations and you are in life – you’ll know when you’ve been Shpongled! (This review also appears on Whisperin’ & Hollerin’)