PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Gong Continue Their Stellar Revitalized Streak on 'The Universe Also Collapses'

Photo courtesy of the artist

The Universe Also Collapses is another singular victory for psychedelic rock masters Gong, chiefly due to its adventurous scope and cohesive ambition.

The Universe Also Collapses
Gong

Kscope

10 May 2019

The 2015 death of guitarist/singer Daevid Allen posed a significant conundrum for experimental group Gong. After all, Allen had been the band's mastermind since its inception in 1967, and although he advised the lingering members to continue in his wake—with Knifeworld leader Kavus Torabi, who'd joined a couple of years prior, steering the ship—everyone involved was still a tad skeptical about the future of the quintet. Fortunately, 2015's sardonic yet sentimental Rejoice! I'm Dead! proved that Gong could carry on exceedingly well as a brilliantly revitalized but respectfully familiar unit under Torabi's watch. Likewise, its follow-up, The Universe Also Collapses, confirms that course. Slightly more abstract and less accessible than its predecessor, the LP finds Gong remaining relevant and resourceful alongside their contemporaries.

Rounded out by guitarist Fabio Golfetti, saxophonist Ian East, bassist Dave Sturt, and drummer Cheb Nettles, Gong sees The Universe Also Collapses as another pinnacle "celebration of the magick of science... bridging the worlds of lysergic exploration and quantum physics". In particular, Torabi calls it "the ultimate psychedelic rock album", adding that he wanted to craft the audio equivalent of a lively drug trip (as always, he succeeded). Whereas the prior outing was "a tribute of sorts" to Allen, this one "marks the dawning of a new chapter" in the group's history of "propulsive, forward-thinking open-mindedness". Although it's not a narrative album, it does focus on the general theme of how time is illusory because the entire scope of existence—from "the Big Bang... [to] the inevitable collapse of the universe"—is occurring simultaneously within our own version of reality. Above all else, The Universe Also Collapses effectively upholds what Allen began while also seeing its current iteration look toward a cosmos all its own.

Nothing reaps vintage genre excellence like starting with a multifaceted epic composition, and the 20-minute opener, "Forever Reoccurring", is precisely that. Its initial minutes can feel a bit too elongated upon introductory listens (even Torabi admits that Gong is known for "stretching a riff out" for extended periods). Yet eventual familiarity allows its otherworldly oscillations, relaxed verses, and carefree rhythms to act as a soothingly vibrant and intellectual aural blanket. Of course, it becomes more intense and intricate as it goes, with East and the guitarists colliding into delightfully flamboyant and triumphant eruptions that counter those calmer passages and evoke seminal creators like Frank Zappa, Beardfish, Phideaux, and naturally, Torabi's other main project. It's a charmingly mind-bending and meticulous declaration of purpose.

Expectedly, the remaining three tracks sustain that distinction. Despite its tongue-twisting name, the short "If Never I'm and Ever You" soars with bouncy, full-bodied instrumental enthusiasm and a comforting call-and-response vocal template to further solidify Gong's knack for luminously merging its aforementioned core with bright bits of jazz, progressive rock, and even a sliver of pop. Afterward, the lengthy "My Sawtooth Wake" offers a more avant-garde and volatile—but still blissfully melodic and welcoming—journey that recalls King Crimson, Caravan, and Porcupine Tree at their most playfully colorful and dizzyingly complex.

As for closer "The Elemental", its tranquil acoustic foundation and ceaselessly enlightened mantras ("And the elemental spirits take me for their own / And put to fire everything we've ever known / The dawn of history, the golden age of man / The world is ending just the same as it began") are inherently life-affirming. Numerous timbres (including handclaps) vividly decorate and enhance each section into a captivating and involving sing-along bursting with sundry gusto, and throughout it all, Nettles and Sturt warrant special acclaim for keeping it all centered but inventive.

The Universe Also Collapses is another singular victory for Gong. While Rejoice! I'm Dead! is superior in terms of its tightly segmented variety and approachability, this record bests its precursor when it comes to adventurous scope and cohesive ambition. The quintet has once again fashions lovingly philosophical odes beneath sophisticatedly joyous arrangements that fuse the deep-rooted penchants of Allen with the thoughtful peculiarities of Torabi. Thus, The Universe Also Collapses should appeal to fans of any Gong era, as well as stylistic aficionados in general.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.