Music

Guapo: Black Oni

Adrien Begrand

London's Guapo want you to get ur prog on. Or so they would like us to think.


Guapo

Black Oni

Label: Ipecac
US Release Date: 2005-03-08
UK Release Date: 2005-05-02
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

We've all seen bands who have sounded amazing in concert, only to find out when we go back home and give their CD a listen, the music on disc simply cannot measure up to the live experience. Guapo must be one hell of a live band, because you sure don't feel any real musical potency on their new record. The avant-garde progressive rock trio have been around for over 10 years, yielding six albums, and their latest, Black Oni, continues right where their last release Five Suns left off. It's actually the second part of a trilogy of albums, which basically means it's yet another extended, continual instrumental piece, a five-track, 45-minute suite that mines such sounds as jazz fusion, krautrock, post punk, and late '60s hard rock. If you like vintage King Crimson, there should be no reason not to like Guapo, as the London trio have all the ingredients for a brilliant prog rock band, in a highly talented multi-instrumentalist, a thunderous percussionist, and a versatile guitarist/bassist. That said, there always seems to be something lacking from this band, that one quality that continues to make such great 1970s acts such as Can, King Crimson, and Goblin so enjoyable three decades later: the ability to compose a good, memorable song.

Instead, Guapo just adhere to the prog rock template, and much like what The Mars Volta did on their mesmerizing, yet frustrating single-track album Frances the Mute, there seems to be too much focus on virtuosity, and not enough on the actual songwriting itself. Granted, Guapo certainly know how to put together an all-instrumental album like this one, as Black Oni ebbs and flows comfortably for its entire duration, Daniel O'Sullivan's atmospheric keyboards creating quiet, ambient moments via mellotron, harmonium, and Fender Rhodes, only to be interrupted by sudden squalls of Dave Smith's charging drum fills and Matt Thompson's slicing guitar licks, the two contrasting sounds alternating back and forth. The concept works very well on Track Three (there are no song titles), as the song combines the dark, murky tones of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew (all that's needed is a bass clarinet, and Miles himself), the more laid-back spaced-out keyboard excursions that Can pulled off on Tago Mago, as well as the monstrous, superheavy sounds of late '60s stalwarts Vanilla Fudge, as it all builds to a boisterous climax just past the midway point.

The rest of the album, while not repellent in the least, simply bobs along safely. The 12-minute Track Two careens along at a frantic, Fantomas-style pace, but Guapo's attempt at menacing noise rock simply pales in comparison to the great supergroup. O' Sullivan's musicianship on Track Four is especially impressive, as layers of keyboards intertwine, creating a dreamy, six-minute respite before the entire band re-enters on the lengthy closing track, on which the trio's playing becomes much more forceful, Thompson's rolling bassline laying a modal jazz foundation, allowing Smith to showcase his tremendous drumming ability, and for O'Sullivan to step to the forefront on both Rhodes and mellotron.

Black Oni sounds great, it's very tightly performed, the band displaying the precision, discipline, and pure chops that make a prog trio great, but more often than not, it sounds too much like an empty exercise, something that can perk a listener's ears up every once in a while, but can't quite capture anyone's complete, undivided attention for more than a few minutes at a time. If ever there was a case of an album you have to hear a few times in advance before you buy it, it's this one. Or, even better, you can just skip this one entirely, and start buying any of the exceptional Can reissues, King Crimson's Red, Comets on Fire's Blue Cathedral, or Fantomas's fun Suspended Animation instead. Black Oni is ambitious and moody enough, but is too often is in dire need of some good old flair.

4

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image