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Gong Farmers, The: Guano Junction

The Gong Farmers is UK duo Mark Graham and Andrew Keeling and guests, including David Jackson (Van der Graaf Generator), Alex Che (Modern Eon, Che), Cliff Hewitt (Modern Eon, Apollo 440), Martin Walker (Nth Dimension, Thruaglas Darkly), Brian Taylor (This Is Awkward, Thruaglas Darkly), and many others.

You may recognize Keeling from his connection to King Crimson. He is the author of several books covering everything Crimson and worked with Robert Fripp and David Cross on the projects The Wire of Silence and English Sun respectively. With The Wire Of Silence, Keeling was invited to orchestrate Fripp’s soundscapes and on the English Sun project, Cross and Keeling developed nine improvised pieces.

So, back to The Gong Farmers, who released their debut titled Ship Of Fools in 2019. Their latest release is titled Guano Junction, released on Spaceward Records in 2021.

This is a finely crafted, detailed work that can develop into a total immersive experience if the right conditions are set. A good pair of headphones is highly recommended. This is a highly textured work touching on many genres like jazz, classical, ambient, electronic, orchestral, and fusion. This is not a rock album as such, the music is both sensitive and creative, exhibiting intelligence and a classiness that is not easily captured in modern, popular music.

The first track “As Surprise Falls 1” builds ever so slowly with moody atmospherics and subtle waves of sound. It’s a gentle wash of music, very textural, and supplemented with the very English sounding vocals of Graham, quite pleasant to these ears. Next is “Drive”, driven by some outstanding classical acoustic guitar from Keeling, giving the piece a nice rhythmic feel as more textural elements are added. David Jackson adds some amazing saxophone, one of the many album highlights. On “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred 1” the strings and flute add tasty orchestral elements, while the pulsating synths and almost tribal-like drums gives “Guano Junction 3” a sort of trippy world vibe. The tasty acoustic guitar in the quirky alternative pop of “Evergreen” is another album highlight.

Guano Junction is music for contemplation, late night listening while kicking back in your favourite chair and letting the band’s highly intelligent music take hold. Highly recommended.

Track Listing:
1. As Sunlight Falls 1
2. Drive
3. Pip, Squeak and Wilfred 1
4. Guano Junction 3
5. Evergreen
6. As Sunlight Falls 2
7. Vista de Toledo
8. Guano Junction 2
9. Wednesday Afternoon
10. SHAVE!
11. Winter Hill
12. Dark Skies
13. Pip, Squeak and Wilfred 2

Added: May 21st 2022
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Related Link: Band @ Bandcamp
Hits: 938
Language: english

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Gong Farmers, The: Guano Junction
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2022-05-21 16:51:58
My Score:

Revolving around the core duo of Mark Graham and Andrew Keeling, The Gong Farmers have assembled quite an amazing cast (detailed in Jon’s excellent review above) to create their second album, Guano Junction. I must admit that I don’t think I’m previously acquainted with Mark Graham’s work, but Andrew Keeling is a name that’s been popping up ever more frequently of late through both his written and musical endeavours with and about, amongst others, Robert Fripp, David Cross and Tim Bowness. To me, as this thematically linked album takes you on its journey through jazz, classical and plaintive prog, one of those names that Keeling has been involved with plays an ever more important part in informing what you’ll hear. The heart wrenching melancholy that Tim Bowness cascades over his compositions a recurring aspect, with the themes of love and loss explored in a way that truly is quite stark.

That said, “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred 1” (many of the compositions have multiple parts that don’t run in succession), almost lands like Bowness combining with David Bowie to form the most forlorn Bond theme imaginable. Clearly, that shouldn’t work, but it definitely and defiantly does. It’s a dark, involved piece that refuses to compromise, even if it is flecked with hope and as you get to know this album, so those aspects become its double edged sword. This, for me, is not a set of songs to flit in and out of, with careful listening from start to finish proving most rewarding, and yet, once the experience is over, I feel ever so slightly drained by the voyage and have little desire to go through it all again, even if there’s nothing here not to engage with and enjoy.

Possibly it’s the unwillingness to truly offer up much in the way of respite from the claustrophobic air this album provides that’s kept me at arm’s length, but there’s no denying that Guano Junction is challenging you to stay the course, or that if you do, it pays you back in many different ways. The rub, of course, being that I can envision few occasions where this is likely to be the album I reach for. It’s good, and in places it verges on excellent and yet, whether I need thirteen tracks of such melancholy on a regular basis, I’m not so sure. You may feel otherwise, and if you do, then this could well turn out to be something of a delight.

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