by Geno Thackara
It all started with an epiphany. One night in the middle of a mid-’90s Glastonbury festival, elevated by great music and some batch of mind-altering substances, Raja Ram had become perfectly happy and in touch with the universe. At some point somebody asked him how he felt, and the reply that came out was “I’m… shpongled.” Apparently his brain made a mash-up of several things like “stoned,” “mashed” and “mangled.”
Maybe it doesn’t sound as enlightened as terms like nirvana or satori, but the name fits that idea of ecstatic oneness all the same. Ram later remembered that odd term when he and Simon Posford watched a solar eclipse in India and decided to make a dreamlike piece of music to capture the experience. The duo has continued to produce aural paintings just as vivid, all-encompassing and off-the-wall bonkers ever since.
It’s a cliche to say that something’s indescribable and different from anything else you’ve heard, but with Shpongle it’s the simple truth. They’re rooted in electronica, but manage to avoid the genre’s usual tropes and monotony completely. It can incorporate any instrument or genre from anywhere in the world. The rhythms feel grown from the earth more than programmed into a console. The first sound to hit your ears here is a wiry bit of Spanish guitar, soon followed by light skittering tabla beats and some funny vocal noises from deep in outer space. In the course of Tales From the Inexpressible there are also ambient cello and flute, old movie samples, a Turkish chant, snippets of Terence McKenna talking about psychedelics and gnomes, and a mariachi horn section put through the digital wringer until it thumps like a rave basement on New Year’s Eve.
On paper the mishmosh should be a hopeless mess, but the different elements manage to react in just the right way like chemicals making fireworks. Somehow it’s both bizarrely alien and familiar as an inviting dream. For someone with my ridiculous music obsession, there aren’t too many things that still make me say “I haven’t heard anyone else like this.” Thanks to some mischievous other-dimensional gods and maybe the cheering gnomes, Tales still continues to happily boggle the mind.