Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gumshen - What You Make It

Every time a new Gumshen CD is hand delivered to me by Postman Sal, I get overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions. First, it’s elation. Sal inevitably cringes and recoils in fear as I burst from behind my desk, give the old dude a bear hug, and thank him for being conceived, his parents for conceiving him, and his parent’s parents for conceiving them. He’ll leave and I’ll return to my chair, staring with that gleeful smirk that I get. Second, I’m overcome with this sense of privilege and power, for I have the new Gumshen in my possession and you don’t . . . Ha! Take that you cretins! Then, there’s the crash of reality. Third, I’m dropped into a mirthful state of depression, for how . . . how many more words can I hammer out to describe what I know will be a sonic thrill ride without repeating myself? I mean, I’ve reviewed the bands last three releases, they have achieved that near God-like stature in my music collection. Where can I go with the written word? And then it hits me . . . WWGD. What Would Gumshen Do?

I had to channel my inner Gumshen. Plain and simple. Even if I never achieve the godhead status of Gumshen with my own craft, the very least I can do is make the attempt. So . . . here goes:

What You Make It is technically the fifth release from this musical wonderment known as Gumshen, the fourth under the actual Gumshen name, and arguments will rage for evermore that this is the best recording to date. That argument will last only as long as you’re playing it . . . and then you’ll go back and drop in March of the Februaries, Super Buffet, or Stew and you’ll swear those are the best. What I’m getting at is this: Gumshen never fail to deliver a product that will please you as a listener, inspire you as an artist, challenge you as an intellect, or frustrate you as a music critic. I say frustrate because writing about these guys is one of those exercises in futility, for one will never actually capture the true essence of the music by merely chucking a bunch of words onto a page. What describer can I possibly plant in front of my nouns and verbs that I haven’t used before? Ah ha! I’ll make up my own! No . . . no, that’s just silly.

“Not Every One Of Us” opens the disc with a great modern pop-rock sound (no . . . not the sugary treat that explodes in your mouth), crisp guitars and keys plinking a simple little melody, the drums join in and help build the tempo, the bass saunters on in and adds the sultry textures . . . and then Ron Hippe’s vocals stop the world and we melt into a puddle of ourselves. At times, I hear a resemblance to Daryl Hall in that voice. Soulful, yet with a playful air, Hippe’s voice gets me on this track much like it did on “Dandelions” (Stew) or “Gone Too Soon” (Super Buffet). The song as a whole is a marvelous piece of music and another great example of how this band can compose a four minute track to sound like a mini-epic. The use of volume swells, added instrumentation at the chorus, changing tempo and mood . . . it’s all worked to perfection to create a song that takes the listener on a journey to soaring heights.

Now follow that track up with “I Know You Girl”, get ready to polish off the platform shoes and get your 70’s dance floor funk going on. The song starts with a cool piano piece that kind of sounds out of place in light of where the song goes, but is way cool nonetheless. Once the band kicks in together, we’re hand delivered a track that should be the highlight of any dance club on this, or any other planet. I can hear it now being remixed by every mix master this-that or another and filling every club with sweaty bodies gyrating to this funky ass bass line. I love the guitar line over the rhythm . . . it’s just the dynamic texture that separates this rhythmic groove sound from all the rest of the hyper hip shakers that have come before it. Classic Gumshen. The re-interpretation of a musical style. Create a sound, push the envelope on where that sound will go, and then push it some more. This track doesn’t just sit comfortably in a funk mode though, we get a little rap and 70’s-style progressive rock in here as well. These guys found a way to break up the groove and take the song into this great guitar and keyboard driven riff, and then they bring it all back to the funk groove . . . all without losing the listener, and in just over four minutes! Fucking brilliant!

“Krypton” is a stunner. Heavy and ominous, introduced by a delayed guitar riff and then propelled through the stratosphere by some heavy rhythms, this song has an overpowering sense of dread to it. This is a side to Gumshen that I had yet to hear, and they tackled the darkened vibes with a natural grace that makes me hope that they’ll explore these tones in the future. The major ear-perking moment occurs at just about 58 seconds into the song. The song goes from a space-y, quasi-psychedelic meandering to a tight and heavy riff, made special by the vocal performance and made spectacular by the backing vocal accompaniment. Very few bands can execute a vocal performance that becomes a focal point of a song, making it more powerful than if performed in a standard vocal approach . . . CS&N(Y) and the prog-tastic soundings of Pure Reason Revolution come to immediate mind of acts who use vocals to such moving emotional and dramatic power. I’m simply amazed. New wrinkle, same band. This track is clocking in at just over three minutes and has more textural dynamics than most fifteen minute prog-epics!

Overall, there’s a darker element underlying this recording than previous Gumshen efforts, and that’s fine by me. Oddly enough, this record has a sparse feeling in comparison to the bands back catalog despite the massive instrumentation. It’s almost like they wrote these songs for a symphony, yet played them as stripped down as possible. The music is still as complex as balancing the national budget, but not unlistenable. Me thinks this has to do with the bands innate ability to work such great melodies into their music . . . that melody acts as a metal detector on an afternoon hike through a minefield. I also love that this band has shown consistent growth year after year after year. Every CD that lands in my lap seems to outdo the one before it, but never completely disregards it either . . . the discs are all complimentary of one another and ultimately chronicle the bands history. If Stew was the infant just learning to walk, we might be looking at What You Make It as a young adolescent seeing the world through the eyes of experience. What the next record will be we will have to wait and see.


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