Shpongle – Museums of Consciousness (Twisted)

Posted in Reviews 2013 by - August 06, 2013
Shpongle – Museums of Consciousness (Twisted)

Museums of Consciousness is Shpongle’s fifth album, which by my reckoning makes theirs the longest trilogy in the history of music. It’s also one of the most hyped releases in the last couple of years; true, the promo machine is far from what it used to be but it seemed, for a few weeks at least, as though everyone was talking about Shpongle again.

All of which makes it more and more unfortunate that Museums is such a disappointment. The main beef is how disjointed it is; the tracks neither segue into one another, nor reflect a consistent vibe. If someone told me that it was made up of tracks that were rejects from other Shpongle albums, I would absolutely believe them.

More than this, there’s also a disjointedness within individual tracks. Part of this may be symptomatic of an act that is forced to consider itself as being simultaneously studio-based and “live”, with multiple directions in the music making it an awkward listen, rather than a rewarding one.

Utter standout track Brain In A Fishtank starts intriguingly with an embracing and disconcerting twinkle-riff, like the music from the movie Halloween. This breaks out into a delicious sonic envelope that’s shattered by Michelle’s vocals, occupying that uncomfortable and familiar space: “Break apart to build anew / golden prisms we jump through / holographic pyramids / we see behind closed eyelids”, which one might argue includes a hiphop-esque namecheck of a previous Shpongle song.

After which, it’s pure Shpongle – danceable (as they all are now) and intricate (as they always were). But there’s a sense of something a bit off here. It feels like the danceable side is pulling it in one direction, while the intricate and technically-ticklish sound is pulling it in another. Might this be symptomatic of an act unsure of whether they’re a studio act, or a “live” act? And to those that respond “why can’t they be both,” I present this very album.

There’s about two minutes of pure Posford brilliance here, which I guess is why you’ll be buying this album. The final section is almost Hallucinogen, in fact, although it doesn’t quite go where you want to. It’s tight, and immaculately-produced, but it isn’t trying.

The quality is maintained with How The Jellyfish Jumped Up The Mountain, which is probably the most adventurous track here. At ten and a half minutes, it’s one of their longer tracks and it goes through a lot of different moods and movements. A couple of moments are wonderful: the first third before the drums kick in sounds like nothing else that’s ever come before it, and the six minute mark when it sounds like old Younger Brother. On the whole though, it’s too disjointed – there are a lot of themes, and a lot of directions, but nothing truly cohesive. This, it turns out, is a theme that seems through the whole album.

If Jellyfish was all about new sounds, Juggling Molecules is about old ones. The beats, the layered vocals, the rhythm, the orchestration are all vintage Shpongle. Literally, you’re asking whether you’ve heard this before, which isn’t what you want from electronic music. Part of the idea might be that it cleverly includes “echoes” of previous Shpongle tracks in a deliberate and artistically dazzling way, which we could forgive were it not for the track’s over-long rambling.

And from here, it’s sadly all downhill. Aquatic Garden has the Twin Peaks theme chords running through it. Which is not cool. It shows a lack of originality, and nothing distracts you from music that’s meant to elevate the senses than an anchor that forcers the listener to recall something from elsewhere.

Further Adventures In Shpongleland seems to be asking the question: are we a band or not? It sounds like the live instruments pull it one way, and the synths pull it another way. The tempo-change in the mid third is solid Posford, but only for a brief moment – it recedes like a musician’s hairline, and we’re left wandering out in the cold again.

The Epiphany of Mrs Kugla starts with orchestral stabs which is a risky one, as we’re going to think it’s the News. Then big orchestral sweeps come in which is also risky, because we’re going to think it’s Batman. I have no idea what to make of this: if it’s a synth orchestra, it’s pappy and trickish. If it’s a real orchestra, it’s overblown and egotistic. The resultant mash is frustrating to listen to: is it clever? Is it going anywhere? It ends before we can find out.

Finally, Tickling The Amygdala sounds somewhat unfinished. It’s largely beatless, with little bits of Pink Floyd all over the place as though Your Dad dropped his record collection on the stairs. The vibe of “searching prog-rock” is one that Shpongle have managed to pull off before, but it’s limp and unrealised here: Raja plays the flute as though we’re at the end of a journey, but the rest of the music ignores any sort of reflection. Instead, it just gives up – the rhythm section fades like the enthusiasm of its audience, and it disappears back into itself.

Which, I suppose, is what we’re being encouraged to do as well. Museums of Consciousness made me want to go back into the other Shpongle albums, which is no bad thing I guess, but on its own two feet it stands far from tall.

The production is, of course, extremely high-quality and those moments of Posford brilliance literally shine. However, it’s far from an essential purchase and sounds too much like an act retreading its own territory by numbers rather than creating anything meaningful. A shame.

  • Release Date: 7/
This post was written by psyreviews
  • antic604

    A bit harsh, I think. Anyway, here’s my own review from few days back: http://www.psynews.org/forums/index.php/topic/66751-shpongle-museum-of-consciousness-twisted-2013/?p=1020040

  • Dan Flict

    It grew on me a lot… I know it´s difficult because it IS Shpongle, but try to rationalize it less and feel it more. It worked for me. ;)

  • Jesus

    What a crap review. As usual you whine like a girl because it doesn’t meet your personal desires, which is not the actual point of reviewing. I met you in person & you were a tossed then and a tosser now.

  • Dustin Fenster

    No doubt it’s disjointed, but it’s a museum…think about when you visit a museum… what happens?? You walk up to one work/exhibit and you engross yourself in that experience as much as will happen…and then you abrubtly move to the next. I would argue that the album accomplishes as much direction as a museum can. So if they were going for museum, they got it.

  • lee

    i agree totally with this reviewer he was spot on and being into the psy scene since 95 and even having posford play for us on a couple of occasions when we used to put on psy trance parties in Londons tyssen street studios ( as hallucinogen) in hackney i have to say this album along with the last 2 previous efforts are lame in comparison to are you shpongled and other great works by simon and raj the best being mystical experiences album by the infinity project which was produced with simon posford as well.

    The album is just not a very enjoyable listen its gorgeously produced but then again so is a lot of bad music .

    There’s nothing here that you can say is arranged particularly well or flows consistently, the arrangements are erratic and shoe horned together with some truely dreadful vocal samples and ill thought ideas strung together to attempt to hold the ideas together .

    listen to the beauty of mystical experiences or are you shpongled and its evident that something’s a miss here.
    I no doubt hearts and minds will be mortified to here reviewers knock this album but being objective and honest in your opinions has to be commended if you dont criticise what your being asked to pay for honestly, your going to get spoon fed shit forever and there’s not enough objective reviews any more everything is politely homogenised and praised when its totally undeserved.
    Of course this is just my own opinion and i am entitled to it the same as you have yours i just wish simon would get back to creating a musical journey that’s dripping with mood, atmosphere, and unnerving psychedelia that sends shivers down your spine and sounds like your in the full throws of an high dose lsd trip like he used to and remains cohesive and substantial at the same time listen to mystical experiences and tell me its not so.

  • Adam Brown

    I do believe this album is a step in the right direction; more thick electronic sounds. I just wish there weren’t so many techno-dancefloor bits. He doesn’t want to give us a Hallucinogen album, then fills the new Shpongle with techno. Favourite track off this album is “Further Adventures”, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that there are no vocals or techno breakdowns in this one. But I thought the album was very funny and thoughtful in parts.

    Other observations: Is this the first Shpongle album with no silly movie samples? I know Simon is trying to get away from sampling, but can you imagine Molecular Superstructure without the classic “And we’ll see if this ride is REALLY like flying!” sample?

  • Arthur Kyrychenko

    If you want to mark yourself out among the majority of musical critics just throw stones at Shpongle. You’re so special if you do so. I remember similar reviews when Shpongle 4 was released. A good try to promote yourself at Posford’s expense.

  • Sponges

    This album is far from perfect, but your criticisms are bizarre. Disjointed and lacking cohesion? The songs sound more similar on this album than any other before it.

    And then the fact that you’re still stuck trying to figure out “whether they’re a studio act, or a “live” act” after five albums.

    I don’t understand you, and something tells me you’ve never created art before.

  • kathmandu604

    The only parts I agree from this review is ” The main beef is how disjointed it is; the tracks neither segue into one another, nor reflect a consistent vibe. If someone told me that it was made up of tracks that were rejects from other Shpongle albums, I would absolutely believe them.”
    “The Epiphany of Mrs Kugla starts with orchestral stabs which is a risky one, as we’re going to think it’s the News. Then big orchestral sweeps come in which is also risky, because we’re going to think it’s Batman.”

  • John Jingadangelow Briffa

    Nice review Damion. I’m quite fond of the new album, but appreciate your humourous criticisms nonetheless

  • Sin Sentido Comun

    I agree, worst shpongle album today, probably OK release for the scene these days. The problem for Simon is to keep delivering the greatness of the first four albums which are super good. I think he should let Shpongle rest for a while and do a full hallucinogen album where he could drop all the dance and full on grooves he wants.