Having mastered the art of the revolving-door line-up, for 2014’s I See You Gong were in yet another new incarnation. Founders Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth were joined by their son Orlando on drums, along with former Cardiacs guitarist Kavus Torabi, Ian East on saxophone, Dave Sturt on bass and Fabio Golfetti on guitar.
Previous album 2032 had found Allen revisiting the Radio Gnome mythology with an excellent batch of new music that updated their patented space-rock sound as it took in rap, funk and techno. Given the work’s positive reception, expectations were high for the follow-up, yet few could have been prepared for the incandescent brilliance of I See You, released on 10 November 2014.
Produced by Orlando and recorded in South Australia, it found a re-energised Allen penning some of the best material of his career. Sharing a similar, contemporary sound with its predecessor, shorter track lengths and sharper musicianship offered a pared-down vision of 2032’s modern space-rock template. There’s a more stridently heavy sound at play too, with ‘Occupy’ unleashing a barrage of furiously paced thrash metal riffs and ‘The Eternal Wheel Spins’ melding prog rock and heavy metal tropes.
Elsewhere, ‘When God Shakes Hands With The Devil’ finds Allen’s rapping complemented by the deepest of baselines, while the funky, stop-start rhythm of ‘Syllabub’ places Ian East’s lyrical saxophone lines to the fore. ‘This Revolution’, meanwhile, updates Gil Scott-Heron’s classic ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ for the 21st Century, in the guise of Allen’s own highly political mission statement.
Further musical styles are straddled, with ‘You See Me’ riding a ska groove and the contemplative ‘Zion My T-Shirt’ featuring Asiatic chanting, while ‘Pixielation’, a flute-heavy jig studded with ethereal synths and high-pitched pixie voices, is archetypal Gong.
Allen, who had been suffering from ill health, must have sensed that I See You would be his last recorded work, for the album’s final three tracks strike a contemplative tone. ‘A Brew Of Special Tea’ is a short ambient montage of classic Gong interviews and song snippets interspersed with eerie synths; the hazy, slow-paced ‘Thank You For The Music’ sounds every bit a farewell song, with a first half marked by defiant refrains such as “doesn’t matter if you get me”, before it segues into a joyous, celebratory denouement.
Named after Allen and Smyth’s nom de plumes, album closer ‘Shakti Yoni & Dingo Virgin’ is an ethereal, stunningly beautiful soundscape comprised of ambient synths, guitar drones and Gilli Smyth’s space whispers – the very essence of the space-rock sound Gong helped create. With Daevid Allen passing away the following year, in March 2015, and Gilli Smyth in August 2016, it was, sadly, the final recorded work of both.
Follow the Gong Best Of playlist for more anarchic brilliance.