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GoGo Penguin: Man Made Object

Geno Thackara By

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They're not your parents' kind of piano trio. Regardless of your age, they're not the obvious idea of yours either. In a milieu that's based on exploration or at least adaptability, GoGo Penguin is still more restless and exploratory than most; this UK outfit's brew of what they call "acoustic electronica" owes a debt to Brian Eno or the Orb as much as Bill Evans. The grooves can be based in the digital world's traditions of house, drum-and-bass or chill—not neglecting the closer-to-home organic quality and melodicism of modern jazz either—and they're translated onto analog instruments in real time. It's a sharp blend that delights and challenges expectations, while remaining ear-pleasing enough to play over brunch with your parents.

After emerging from a defining lineup shift with V2.0 (Gondwana, 2014), the group is expanding slightly further on their Blue Note debut, refining and deepening the pattern while adding pinches of other new things to the recipe here and there. "Initiate" coasts on a lick with a hint of Southern/folky Americana, while "Protest" could be a deep slice of dub if the instrumentation was a bit different. Rob Turner's snappy snare hits give the pleasant feel of light danceable club beats; you wouldn't mistake anything here for a rave track by any stretch, but there are times the music wouldn't need too much tweaking to fit into an imaginative DJ's remix set either.

Chris Illingworth's piano enjoys a sweet crystalline tone (sometimes slightly processed with a pickup) that adds to the chill-out atmosphere while staying rooted in acoustic warmth. Nick Blacka's double bass may not be as prominent, meanwhile, but he anchors the sonic range with plucking, sawing and bowing as called for. The mix is catchy without having obvious hooks, steadily groovy but never static, based on often simple-sounding parts that can be layered into slow pretty motifs or colorful cinematic sweeps. Glass and Reich are touchstones, though this mix is too busy to be called minimalist; likewise the infectious rhythmic sense of Nik Bärtsch, though these fellows handily win out in terms of sheer playful fun.

GoGo Penguin continue to live up to their name—quirky yet sophisticated, slyly clever and always looking forward. Whether exuberant or quietly reflective, they always convey a sense of positivity throughout. It's just another reason for all of us to stay optimistic about whatever else is still to come.

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