UPDATE, JUNE 3: This album was originally set for release on June 5, but GoGo Penguin have delayed it to June 12 in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. We support and stand alongside them to the fullest possible extent.
All right, let me just get this out of the way real quick because I love penguins.
Okay, serious mode. Jazzy serious mode. The first day I listened to GoGo Penguin‘s new, self-titled album, it was a rainy day in May. For me, rainy days are nice – they’re calming, hardly ever bring about sadness, and I don’t have to deal with the sun. A good day indeed. I could hear the drops splash against my windows and roof, never too hard to be threatening, never too light to be missed – perfectly pitched.
I knew I had to start listening to this album, I had to review it, and from my knowledge of the group’s previous work, I figured that’d be a good time to start. Little did I know that GoGo Penguin seemingly, if accidentally, wrote this album with that atmosphere in mind. The first damn song, “1_#”, has the same calming pitter-patter of rain gently crashing against our world. It’s near the end of the track, so I got the aural foreplay of serene, piano-heavy jazz, as light as the petrichor in the air, before the sounds from my speakers merged with the ones in my temporal space, one darkened by the dense clouds in the sky with the light of my laptop reflecting off my glasses.
The album launches off into a full-scale jazz invasion of cozy bass, engaging piano leads, and diverse percussion ranging from quaint to impressively stuttering. This trio doesn’t need much more than that to inform your day with such a palatable and enjoyable mood. Cinematic in nature, each song has a path it takes, but they’re all part of the same track. GoGo Penguin never overreach or undersell themselves as capital musicians, ones in total command of their craft. Songs like “F Maj Pixie” are what I hear when I look out my window and see a frolicking bunny, or a timid and hungry squirrel perched in one of the many trees outside. There’s harmony not only within the plucky piano and vibrative bass, but with all of the music and your environment, able to sync to a variety of situations.
GoGo Penguin doesn’t have to be a grand, multi-sensory experience though – sometimes it’s best at just being… music. “Kora” is anything but straightforward, and still keeps the cinematic structure intact, but is fiercely confident with its approach. It’s energetic as well, a common thread throughout the whole album, part of that ‘different path, same track’ I mentioned earlier if you like callbacks. With that energy, there’s an air of unpredictability to things with the muted piano, even as the song establishes prominent melodies and a singular tone. “Totem” carries on that momentum, but builds more to it with a tinge of suspense as if the storm outside grew to cacophonous levels.
Maybe I was oversimplifying a bit when I said that much of GoGo Penguin‘s latest effort is all part of the same track – the thing is that while the band never goes out of their way to be different or change things up drastically, each song does have its own distinct mood. The understatedness of “Embers” is just as powerful as the comparative bombastic action of “Signal in the Noise”. While I appreciate a well-varied sound on an album or any project, there’s something to be said for finding subtly fantastic ways to express similar things, and what those things are is open to vast interpretation. For me, this album represented connection, maybe more specifically my connection with my world – the slice of nature I have regular access to, the ways I feel when I directly interact with it and bother to leave the shell I’ve been in for months. Perhaps the latter was more affecting to me because this album became a favorite to listen to when I trekked out for grocery runs and other important errands.
I had a perfect storm of serendipity, listening to this album and exploring what it had to offer during some specific times and events. I have no doubt that this enhanced my enjoyment of the record, but I don’t think it’s a requirement to see the beauty of it. GoGo Penguin have been steadfast and consistent in their articulation of jazz and while their self-titled album isn’t a revelation for the genre, it is quite representative of the musicians they’ve grown to become. Listen and find your own beauty in it – that’s what music is all about, and this record is exemplary of that fact.
All right, one more time for the road.