Music

Mike Gordon: OGOGO

Photo: Rene Huemer (Big Hastle)

The Phish bassist unleashes another solo album and, to no one's surprise, it's an odd, idiosyncratic slice of catchy rock and funk.


Mike Gordon

OGOGO

Label: Megaplum / ATO
US Release Date: 2017-09-15
UK Release Date: 2017-09-15
Amazon
iTunes

Through consistent, successful touring and the occasional studio album, Phish’s status as Vermont’s legendary jam band kingpins remains unscathed. But this doesn’t mean the band spends its off-time resting on laurels. Far from it. Singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio, in particular, enjoys a healthy, multifaceted solo career, and bassist Mike Gordon keeps churning out delightfully weird releases both with his band as well a variety of collaborators.

The content of Gordon’s latest album shouldn’t surprise any fans of the bassist’s solo career or even those who’ve kept tabs on his contributions to Phish. OGOGO continues his trend of making flaky, off-kilter music that thrives on expert musicianship but still manages to retain plenty of hooks that work well within the pop music realm.

The one aspect of OGOGO that sets it apart -- just a bit -- from the rest of his discography is the heavy influx of synthesizers and programming. Gordon’s been down this road before; his previous solo album, 2014’s Overstep, dabbled in synths but also managed to stay relatively organic. OGOGO dives headfirst into an ocean of blips and patches that almost seem like an attempt to distance himself from the past and start over. But upon further examination, it’s clear that the songs (and their arrangements) work well with previous works and just manage to nudge the sound a bit further into the future.

OGOGO was recorded with Gordon’s touring band of guitarist (and co-writer) Scott Murawski, drummer John Kimock, keyboardist Robert Walter, and percussionist Craig Myers, with Grammy-winning engineer Shawn Everett on board for production duties. The album kicks off with the warm keyboard buzz of “Equilibrium”, and the addition of four-on-the-floor drumming almost makes the track sound like a new LCD Soundsystem single. “Left right / Fast slow / Out of balance,” Gordon sings in his trademark nasal delivery, while handclaps egg on the beat. It’s this kind of quasi-dancefloor vibe that may repel longtime fans, but anyone who knows Gordon’s music can tell you that his flair for unpredictable stylistic shifts and genre-dabbling is nothing new.

Tracks like “Victim” can appease both fans of synth-heavy pop and more traditional rock, as the song lays down an intoxicatingly funky rhythm while a distorted wah-wah guitar weaves its way through the catchy head-bobber of a single. “You never were the victim / I’m sure you know,” the chorus goes, underscored by spare piano chords. “Steps”, the album’s first single, is framed by an insistent, vaguely tropical beat and includes sunny sonic treats like elastic guitar leads and Gordon’s oddly charming falsetto in the bridge. The general sense you get from OGOGO is an artist who revels in occasionally jarring weirdness but still likes a good party atmosphere.

But OGOGO isn’t without the occasional darkness. “Crazy Sometimes” tempers its thorny funk beats with a robotic, somewhat forbidding synth-heavy chorus. “Pendulum” has the potential to be something of a loving tribute to keyboard-heavy ‘80s new wave, but its thick, overstuffed arrangement threatens to cause the song to topple under its own weight. “Whirlwind” is, on its surface, a fairly benign slice of lazy funk, but soon turns neurotic and maddening towards the end, as studio effects cause the song to disintegrate slowly.

Still, like most everything Gordon does, OGOGO is full of pleasant yet oddball gems. “Marissa” is a gentle love song that floats along a warm reggae beat (reminiscent of “Yarmouth Road” from Overstep). “Let’s Go” -- a song intended for, but ultimately dropped from Big Boat, the latest Phish album -- is a fun, mid-tempo party anthem, complete with a Weezer-like “whoa, oh, oh” chorus.

One of the album’s most winning moments is also its most sweet and unusual. “So Far Gone” is a bizarre, potent slice of muted psychedelia with bass, acoustic guitar and understated keyboards swirling around Gordon’s gentle vocals, giving off the impression of a folk ballad drifting off in outer space. Over the years, Gordon has certainly earned a reputation for being a songwriter and musician with an unusual arsenal, and when he drops gems like this into an ocean of rock and funk, the results can be breathtaking.

Phish fans looking for songs that serve as launching pads for 20-minute jam sessions will likely be disappointed by the quirky, more concise charms of Mike Gordon’s latest album. But those who’ve been following his career from the very beginning will likely breathe a sigh of relief upon hearing OGOGO, content in the knowledge that he’s just as weird and wonderful as ever.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

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