Quality: 4.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5
Shpongle is a criminally underrated electronic psychedelic band which successfully mixes the sound of pulsing psychedelic trance, with first rate ambient atmospherics. Like Steve Hillage in System 7, Shpongle is the modern home for a former 60's underground psych musician. Raja Ram, formerly the flautist and vocalist for Quintessence, provides the personality and basic aesthetic for Shpongle, along with some flute and strange chanted vocals. Supporting him the more nitty gritty side of drum and sequencing programming, and synths is Simon Posford. The two apparently hooked up musically after witnessing a solar eclipse in India while tripping the life fantastic. That scenario pretty much sums up the sound of the album too.
Are You Shpongled? presents a very unique and interesting form of psychedelia. The tools here are made up of your basic late 90's electronic music kit, although with some nice organic sounds sprinkled in, but the aim has more to do with the 60's. Posford and Raja Ram seem to be attempting some sort of spiritual nirvana through their music, which I doubt the Chemical Brothers tend to try (even if they have managed several awesome electronic psych tracks).
The first half of this disc presents some relatively short songs (only 7-9 minutes!) that are a fine introduction to the world of Shpongle. There are lots of world percussion sounds, cool samples, and plenty of Raja's flute. I tend to view this as the prelude for the second half, however.
Starting with "Behind Closed Eyes," the album takes on a more epic bent. The 12 minutes track is like a voyage through a dance club slowly but shifting into a ayahuasca induced Peruvian forest. It's very visual music, especially if you follow the instructions of the title.
Even better, and the peak of the album is "Divine Moments of Truth." Pick out the initials and you'll find that this is a tribute to this strong psychedelic substance. Fortunately, the music does a perfectly fine job on it's own evoking the kaleidoscopic, multi-dimensional world beyond this one. The shifting beats, and vocoded and organic chants do an amazing job of pushing the listener through an auditory trip. Following this is the far more chilled out "...And the Day Turned to Night," which owes more than a bit to late 70's and early 80's Tangerine Dream synth epics, while still including Shpongle's own trance-like bent.
Shpongle's debut does a great job melding modern electronic beats and effect to music that aims for a 60's aesthetic. There's really nothing else that sounds quite like this band.
Shpongle - 1998 - Are You Shpongled?