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/