By Ian Beabout, Online Editor
Guapo, one of England’s most enduring and consistent acts has just released its 9th studio album. Clocking in at slightly under 43 minutes, this new work entitled Obscure Knowledge, was one of my most highly anticipated releases of the year. And does it deliver? Oh yes, and then some.
The group was formed in the mid 1990’s by drummer Dave Smith and began as an experimental trio who released a string of records that were met with mixed reviews. However, it was the release of 2004’s Five Suns that gained the attention of experimental rock fans everywhere. With a sound that utilized elements of progressive rock, minimalist bass grooves, and walls of distorted guitars, then combined them with its repetitive, explosive rhythms and emotional peaks and valleys, the album is masterpiece of dark, cinematic instrumental rock music.
The albums that followed expanded on this sound with Black Oni (2005), however for Elixirs (2008), the band scaled back to a two member studio project with the help of several guests to fill out the sound. With 2013’s History of the Visitation, the band introduced a stable lineup – Emmet Elvin (keyboards), James Sedwards (bass), and long-time live guitarist, Kavus Torabi (guitar) who aided drummer Dave Smith in the composition process. The album also saw Guapo develop a more unique, less bass centric, less aggressive sound, that still retained their experimental roots.
The previous album was my favorite record of 2013, so when I heard that the latest was on its way, I ordered it as soon as it was available from Wayside Music. At only 3 tracks (each entitled “Obscure Knowledge” – I, II, and II), an album such as this could seem daunting to the unseasoned listener, but remarkably, this work is concise and to the point.
It is a direct evolution from the last record, which sees the band further develop the refined sound, but I can certainly hear a return to the heavier sound of previous albums such as Five Suns and Black Oni. This is in no doubt due to the use of the same lineup, which are now road tested (having infamously blown up the PA system at Rock in Opposition festival in Carmaux, France) and seem very much ‘of one mind’. The various subsections of the album weave seamlessly from one to the next with hypnotic effect, leaving the listener caught in Guapo’s unique atmosphere.
The new work is at times very riff based and there is a melody which runs through the entire piece, giving it a sense of cohesion. There is also no shortage of infectious bass groove that will appeal to fans of Guapo’s older work, such as myself. To offset this, there are some wonderful, very spacey moments that recount early Pink Floyd with repetitive keyboard figures that serve to draw the listener into Guapo’s singular universe.
So, if you are bored this summer and looking to find music to get lost in like a good book, I highly recommend this new record by Guapo, entitled Obscure Knowledge. Put down your smartphones and be prepared to give this one a few close listens, though, preferably in a good pair of headphones – this is an experience you’ll want to immerse yourself in.