What does “Shpongle” mean anyways? According to band member Raja Ram, “Shpongle is an umbrella term for feeling positive and euphoric emotions”. That’s a pretty apt description for this album, and the band itself, which consists of Raja Ram and band mate Simon Posford (whom you may know from his earlier work as the goa trance trailblazer Hallucinogen).
Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongleland is a high energy, highly layered, euphoric trip of an album that explores a range of worldly influences. At times it can sound like something you’d hear in an over-incensed yoga classroom (for example, the opening violins on “Invisible Man in a Fluorescent suit”). At other times, it can sound like a computer that took LSD and fried its internal hard drive, but somehow, in the twisted world of Shpongleland, managed to record the experience (as on “Shpongolese Spoken Here”). And the opening track, “Electroplasm”, sounds like the soundtrack to a group of Burmans as they slink through the Burmese jungle trying to evade Kublai Kahn’s Mongol forces.
But whatever world Shpongle chooses to conjure, one thing is consistent: they always do a thorough job of it. Really, each track is more layered than a Burmese Jungle canopy. Even on the more down-tempo tracks (if you can call them that), there are rich under currents of music, with new themes and sounds kicking in every few seconds. For example, towards the end of the track “No Turn Un-stoned”, a soft sounding female singer starts going on about “floating away” and what not. But beneath her ethereal voice one can still hear the incessant blips, bloops and flurrying flutes (that’s another thing worth mentioning, Raja Ram studies flute and writes flute arrangements for many of the tracks). This constant undercurrent of ever changing music really helps drive the album forward.
With all this being said, Shpongleland does have its downsides. It’s a great place to visit (and even revisit) for a bit, but not necessarily a place you want to stay too long. After a while, the unceasing onslaught of euphoric chanting and electronic hypnotics can wear you down. Parts that might have seemed awesome before now seem annoying. The chanting that kicks in around the two minute mark on the title track starts to like a babbling bobble head on speed that you just want crack open on a concrete ledge. Or let me put it another way: have you ever woken up feeling groggy only to have some hyper-caffeinated morning person get in your face about how exciting the new Mate Late is at Tully’s? Well it’s a bit like that.
I guess what it comes down to is this: Ineffable Mysteries of Shpongleland is a real trip of an album, and as they always say with trips, your mindset going in is important. So you sure as fuck better be in an adventurous mood before putting this on, or you’re just going to feel like smashing shit against concrete ledges. If you are in that adventurous mood, Shpongleland is as immersive of an album as any, and I look forward to listening to what they put out next (their next album is due later this month).
Note: I listened to this on pretty shitty headphones, but from what I could tell there was still some pretty solid bass in there.