Lee Speaks About Music… #155

A Humdrum Star – GoGo Penguin



Much of the success that rubbed off GoGo Penguin’s third album Man Man Object very much continued and followed them along and the bands 4th album A Humdrum Star certainly showed by now that the band had landed on their feet so to speak. The band had spent around 200 days on the road doing a worldwide tour touring their previous album and further shows in America was attracting more of the attention over there than in their own country here in the UK.

Although they certainly never had any problems selling tickets to their live shows here in the UK and if you can afford to put on a show at the Royal Albert Hall in London then you must be doing well and something right. It’s also worth noting that they were also attracting a lot more attention in both Germany and Belgium than their own country too and their decision to cut a 3-album deal and sign-up to Blue Note Records in France appeared to be working out for both the band and the label.

I am pretty sure that the band were put under quite a bit of pressure to come up with the material to follow and measure up to the material that was written for their 3rd album Man Made Object and further the success it had brought them. It’s a difficult task for all artists to do and I would say that only a minority have successfully pulled it off as well. In the music business you are only as good as your next album when it comes to carrying on that success for most in the business.

However, it’s not always a case of how do you “TOP THAT! so to speak and some artists and bands have made such iconic albums that it would be impossible to do that. Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side Of The Moon is a perfect example of an iconic album and they were one of the few bands who did successfully manage to follow it up. Although I do not personally think they topped that album but I would say that they measured up to their high standards with the next 3 albums they released after it.

I would not exactly say that Man Made Object is an iconic album but it is nevertheless a very good album that contains a strong body of work and I do personally see it as their best album in terms of energy. I would also see it as something that would present the band with a challenge to come up with something next that would still keep their existing audience and attract even more attention and bring in more followers and fans alike to their music.

The one thing they did have in their favour judging by the bands first 3 albums is that GoGo Penguin were a band that were improving all the time. But before we take a look to see if the band had managed to carry on their success and come up with the goods, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…


The CD comes in the same quality gatefold cardboard Digisleeve that was used for their 2nd album v2.0 where both the CD and Booklet are retrieved from the both sides like a vinyl album and it replicates a mini version of a vinyl album very well. It comes with an 8-page booklet that contains the linear and credit productions notes but does not include any informative information or photos of the band.

Unlike their previous album to which the CD format was only released in a standard plastic Jewel Case they did release their 4th album with an option of the jewel case or a digisleeve. I got mine from Amazon UK for £5.99 and it arrived in a jewel case. Having discovered afterwards it was also released in a Digisleeve I went out and brought it from a record store in London who were selling them new and sealed on eBay for £10.


You could say that the album was that good I brought it twice 🙂 but I myself prefer DigiPaks & DigiSleeves and I think they give a better overall presentation which is why I do not mind paying that bit extra for them. I dare say in the future they will eventually re-release their 3rd album in a DigiPak & DigiSleeve with a few bonus tracks and I will buy that to replace the one I already have.

The album was also released in the form of a Digital Download and also on Black & Red vinyl to which both were pressed onto 2 180-gram LP’s. The coloured vinyl was released as a Limited Edition only.  I have to confess that these days with how they put a single album worth of material onto a double vinyl record sort of takes away the meaning of a double album from all those years ago.

I can see why they are doing it, and it is for quality reasons down to vinyl having restrictions of how much you can fit onto one side before the sound deteriorates. But it’s an expensive game these days and its price tag of £24.99 I personally think is well over the odds and you will never convince me that it sounds any better than a CD.


Once again the artwork was done by Paul Middlewick and I have confess that I have yet to be impressed by any of the artwork that was done for GoGo Penguin’s albums and they all look like the designs you would find in the templates you would get with a CD Labelling Kit 🙂 Here they have used a coloured spectrum of lines to represent the Humdrum Star. Not sure it does that at all and they would have been better off using a photo.

Out of their first 4 albums the only cover that made any sort of sense in the way of it being apt would have to be the design that was done for their previous album Man Made Object. The other notable thing about the album cover is that like their debut album they have included the band name and title.

The Album A Humdrum Star In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s 4th studio album A Humdrum Star was released on the 9th February 2018. The album contains 9 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 50 minutes, 41 seconds. Once again, the album was very well received upon its release and it hit number 5 in the US Top Jazz Albums Billboard Charts. Five places higher than their previous album. Although in the UK it was one place shorter than their previous album and peaked at Number 73 in the UK album charts.

The idea for the albums title was inspired by a quote by the astronomer and scientist Carl Sagan who was talking about the pale blue dot from his book he wrote back in 1994 of the same title which is about a vision of the human future in space. All 3 of the band members have an interest in space and the universe and have even played at the Bluedot Festival on a couple of occasions which has been an annual event since July 2016  It’s very much a music, science and culture event that’s held at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, England which is endorsed by the University of Manchester who are the current owners of the observatory.

The band recorded the album at Low Four Studios in Manchester which used to be the old Granada Studios where The Beatles rehearsed for their first ever TV appearance back in the early 60’s. The studio opened up in 1962 which was the same year the building was completed. It was designed by Ralph Tubbs, an architect renowned for his work on the Dome of Discovery for the Festival of Britain and the studio was used to record many TV Themes and Soundtracks for the Movies.

Dan Parrott launched Low Four Studio at the Old Granada Studios with his partner Brendan Williams in May 2016 and the space is now used to nurture and promote new local acts through live performances complete with studio audience and internet music television video live streaming. Very much the same sort of thing Jools Holland is doing these days. Brendan Williams also happens to be one of GoGo Penguin’s producers and recording engineers so you can see why they decided to use this particular studio.

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Low Four Studios

As with much of the new material the band wrote, the biggest majority of it would have been road tested at their live shows as they wrote them. They took some time out to record the album in June 2017 and the album was mixed and mastered between July and October of the same year. Once again most of the mixing was done at 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams and they used a different mastering engineer and the album was mastered in Germany by Norman Nitzsche.

Throughout 2018 GoGo Penguin spent much of their time on the road promoting their new album and they very much went on a world tour. They kicked off the tour in their own country England on the 8th February 2018 at the Roundhouse in London and also ended it off in Europe at the La Cigale in Paris, France on December the 10th December 2018. They toured most of Europe including Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Turkey and other international countries such as Japan, USA and Canada.


They took a couple of months off over Christmas and New Year and in February 2019 they went back out on the road again adding countries like Brazil, Poland, Greece and the Ukraine and a few others to their list. GoGo Penguin have always been a hard-working band and spend a lot of their time on the road playing live. It was whilst on tour in America back in 2018 they got to do a mini concert on the 13th September and performed 3 of the tracks from the album “Raven“. “Bardo” and “Window” in Washington at NPR Musics Tiny Desk.

The Tiny Desk was set up by Bob Boilen back in 2008 after he and the editor of NPR Music Stephen Thompson left a bar show frustrated that they couldn’t hear the music over the crowd noise. The artist they were watching at the time was folk singer Laura Gibson and Thompson joked that maybe she should perform at Boilen’s desk.

A month later Boilen arranged for Laura Gibson to just do that and made an impromptu recording and posting it online and it attracted enough attention to make it into a series featuring many new and upcoming artists and more well-known artists such as Sting, Richard Thompson and Cat Stevens to name a few. It’s very popular on YouTube and by the time GoGo Penguin played behind the desk (which now looks like the counter of a book store) more than 800 concerts have been viewed a collective 2 billion times on the Tube. I’ve watched it a good few times and enjoy it.

GoGo Penguin Tiny Desk Concert

This mini concert is well worth watching and I was also quite amazed how the guys managed to set up in such a small space. I am fairly sure that Chris Illingworth does hit a couple of bum notes on “Raven” and to be honest it’s the first time I have ever heard him make any sort of mistake but that is all part and parcel of a live performance and was hardly that noticeable at all. It cannot be easy when you do not have your own instrument either and have to rely on what piano you get for each show.

Speaking of PIANOS! he also has to get permission to put tape over the strings and with an upright piano you will also need to take the front off with a screwdriver. Even though this is something that could be done on a Grand Piano without having to take it apart I often wonder how many would grant permission to put sticky tape on expensive pianos such as a Steinway and those things cost a bomb. The sticky tape does its job though and they knock both “Bardo” and “Window” out of the park on this performance.

The musical trio carried on playing more live shows and writing new material throughout 2019 and also released another EP only this time unlike the Live At Abbey Road EP they put out 3 years earlier this consisted of new recorded material. Oddly enough the EP was titled after the only new track that featured on their live EP from 2016 only this version does sound a bit different and is a minute shorter.

GoGo Penguin’s second EP Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) was released on the 4th October 2019 it contains 5 instrumental tracks spread over an overall time of 22 minutes, 41 seconds. The EP was released in the form of a Digital Download and on 10″ Vinyl in Europe only. It was also released on CD in Japan only and like always you will pay through the nose for it and £23 for an EP that should retail at around £5 – £7 here in the UK is scandalous. To be honest even though the 10″ vinyl is only around £14 here in the UK I still find that a ridiculous price which is why I opted for the Digital Download and paid £2.79 for it on Amazon UK.


The music that is featured on the 5-track EP Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) was the score they wrote for Godfrey Reggio’s cult 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi and performed at the HOME cinema in Manchester, England back in October 2015. They decided to re-record it and recorded it at 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester between the 25th – 27th January 2019. It was recorded and mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams and mastered by Norman Nitzsche. The cover design was done by Paul Middlewick and the photograph of the circuit board was taken by Alexandre Debiève.

It’s perhaps the most adventurous artwork ever seen on a GoGo Penguin release although the picture of the circuit board I personally think does very little and bares no relation to the EP. I would also say that the music they scored for Godfrey Reggio’s film also bares no relation to the title to which Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word meaning “life out of balance”. I would also say that out of the 5 tracks that make up the EP it is only perhaps the final track “Nessus” that really sounds like Soundtrack material.

Unlike the Live At Abbey Road EP to which I never seen as an essential part of the bands discography the 5-track EP Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) is quite the opposite and very much a must to have. Most of the material that was written for it is more up-tempo and exciting and my personal favourite track and standout track from the EP would be the longest one on it entitled “Control Shift“. But they are all very well written and GREAT! tracks. The track listing is as follows: “Time-Lapse City. 3:55“. “Control Shift. 7:08“. “Four Corners. 4:29“. “Ocean In A Drop. 4:19” and “Nessus. 2:50“.

Overall, Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) is very much up with the material that was written for both Man Made Object and A Humdrum Star and is a very solid body of work. It’s very much worthy of my rating of 10 out of 10 and like I mentioned a must for all GoGo Penguin fans alike. The band also performed the material from it live at a couple of the gigs in the States in the same month of its release.

Musicians & Credits…


All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Recorded at Low Four Studios Manchester, England between 10th – 23rd June 2017. Mixed at 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England between 3rd – 21st July 2017 and Low Four Studios Manchester, England between 16th & 17th October 2017. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered by Norman Nitzsche at Calyx Mastering Berlin, Germany between 18th & 19th October 2017. Assistant Recording Engineer Lee Aston. Additional Engineering by Rob Kelledy. Artwork & Design by Paul Middlewick.

Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Like I mentioned earlier GoGo Penguin were a band that appeared to be improving all the time and regarding carrying on that success most bands are only as good as their next album. The band were put under pressure to come up with the goods when they made their previous album Man Made Object, after all they were signed up to a new record label. The fact that they are constantly out on the road playing live also contributes to a lot of the success but it can also put a strain on you when it leaves little time to be at home with your family.

Like any band there is always going to be some arguments or disputes when you are continuously working together all the time, which is why they decided to record their 4th album A Humdrum Star in their own town in Manchester. This allowed them more time to spend in their own homes with their families and helped relieve a lot of the pressure and gave them more liberation. I certainly think it paid off by how well the album came out and there is no doubt that GoGo Penguin had come up with the goods yet again.

I would also say that they stripped back on quite a bit of the elements that went into making their 3rd album Man Made Object to create what we have here. So, lets now take a look at the individual tracks on the album and see how it all worked out.

Track 1. Prayer.

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The album opens with the shortest track on the album to which mostly features Chris Illingworth on the piano whilst the other two work more in the way of adding effects to the piece such as the effective use of the bowed strings on the double bass and the odd bit of knocks and noises in the percussion department. The piano is also working in a percussive way with how it’s hammering out one continuous note on the one hand whilst a darker mournful melody is crafted out of the other.

It’s quite a dramatic piece that reflects a sense or feel of sadness and loss, it would even work as a funeral march in many respects too. You could even visualize it like staring up at the stars and as a prayer of hope perhaps for those astronauts who are about to take off or those who were lost. As prayers go this is perhaps not a blessing but works very well as an introduction.

Track 2, Raven.

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This is very much the first piece I ever heard of GoGo Penguin and it immediately drew me in and led me to further investigate their music. Now here I am with another 5 albums and 2 EP’s added to my collection writing about it. What drew my attention to this piece is very much the electronic side of things that the piano is playing and no doubt Illingworth has worked the melody lines around that genre of music and has even threw the odd classic elements into the pot with some of the octaves in the faster sections of the piece. The melody lines are really GREAT! and it’s a very well-structured piece.

The piece was originally worked around a little sketch that Illingworth wrote using lots of synths and electronic drums and although both Nick Blacka and Rob Turner do contribute towards the writing on certain pieces, it’s quite evident that this particular piece was very much like many other of Go Go Penguin’s compositions and was more structured around the keys. The inspiration and title of the piece also came from one of Illingworth’s strange dreams he had a few years ago about playing chess with a raven.

This video the band put out on their official YouTube channel of the band performing it live at Low Four Studios where they recorded the album is the same video, I seen that drew my attention to the band. The thing that stuck out to me was not only the well-structured melody lines on the piano, but how the lines were structured around electronic music and the fact that they had replaced the synthetic bass lines and drums with real instruments. In all honesty if I was to hear another pathetic Roland TR808 Drum Machine it would of drove me up the wall. Those things really do sound like Plastic and drive me nuts Lol…

Raven” is very much one of the albums stand out tracks and its melodic structure is very catchy and pulls you in and draws you to it straight away. It also has all the right characteristics to work as the single release from the album and is infectious enough to make people want to go out and buy it. I dare say it pulled in many more fans when they released it too and it is one of my personal favourite tracks on the album that merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! for those reasons.

Track 3. Bardo.

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This is a piece that sort of noodles it’s way along a repetitive sequence played on the keys with part of the strings on the piano taped up to give it more of a muted plucky effect. All three musicians do their own bit off noodling to make it what it is and they each play their part in it. It’s a piece that may of very well of been designed to take out on the road to play live and is that more interesting watching it being played live rather than listening to it on the album. Though it is quite a good album track and has been very well worked out.

The word “bardo” is associated with Buddhism and in Tibet in particular it’s also mentioned in their book of the dead. It’s an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth and used loosely, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth according to Tibetan tradition.

The band put out an official video on their YouTube channel and once again the video production was done by Antony Barkworth-Knight. It is however, on a radio edit and is only half as long as the 7 minute, 14 second track on the album, but nevertheless portrays the transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth quite well.

Overall, “Bardo” is more exciting to watch live and it’s one of those pieces you would want to see them play at a gig and it would perhaps standout more at their live shows. I do actually prefer the longer version on the album than the radio edit they put out in this video and it is like I said a good album track but does not stand out so much on the album sort of thing.

Track 4. A Hundred Moons.

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This particular track on the album reminds me a lot of the German electronic band Tangerine Dream and is more familiar with their latter material when they themselves added the singer and percussionist Iris Camaa to their line-up back in 2003. To be perfectly honest this track even sounds more like Tangerine Dream than GoGo Penguin and if I heard it on the radio first I would of even swore blind it was Tangerine Dream. That is really how close these guys are to replicating electronic music and they have got it down to a tee on this track.

It is more down to Rob Turner’s percussion and the ambience that is reflected from the keys on the piano that does give it more of an electronic feel plus the melody Chris Illingworth is playing on the piano. The double bass would be the only instrument that perhaps does not have any electronic element. Although keyboards can quite easily emulate that sound and Nick Blacka’s bass lines work very well here in giving it a rich texture adding some strength to support it.

The band put out another live video of them playing it live at Low Four Studios on their official YouTube channel and you can plainly see how well the percussion drives this piece along. You can also see how Turner does use some strange objects including what looks to me like a metal platter from a HiFi Turntable and it works effectively very well.

A Hundred Moons” is a really GREAT! track and another of my personal favourites on the album and no doubt there is a heavy Tangerine Dream influence here though it also quite possible that neither of these young chaps have ever heard their music. But it does speak the same language to me has that electronic band and they are doing it with acoustic instruments. It’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 5. Strid.

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This is the longest track on the album weighing in at 8 minutes, 10 seconds and its title is referring to a stretch of the River Wharfe, in Yorkshire, England. Although the Yorkshire dales is a pleasant place to walk even alongside the Wharfe, the Strid might even look innocent to walk along but you do not want to be falling into it. It’s considered to be the world’s most dangerous stretch of water and nobody who has fallen or attempted to swim in it has ever survived. Because of its very fast undercurrent it literally carries rocks along and it will totally pulverise you if you were to go into it.

Both Nick Blacka and Rob Turner work their butt on this track and along with Chris Illingworth’s piano they have captured the danger and the innocence of this stretch of the river with how it travels along with its twists and turns. It’s built up with both pace and calmer sections to portray the drama the river beholds and they do it very well. It’s a very well structured and fine piece of work with some GREAT! progression along its path and another GREAT! album track.

Track 6. Transient State.

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This is one of the more up-tempo pieces on the album with how it runs along at a it’s faster pace, although I must admit with how it opens up with Turner banging away on some tin cans it sounds like dinner is about to be served 🙂 A transient state is when a process of variable or variables have been changed and the system has not yet reached a steady state. The time taken for the circuit to change from one steady state to another steady state is called the transient time.

The idea for the piece came from a time that Chris Illingworth was on tour with the band in Tokyo, Japan and he got a rare day off to do a bit of sightseeing to which was a new experience for him and somewhere totally different to anywhere he’d been before. He packed as much as he could in that one day and it was about those experiences never being in one place very long and always on the move hence the reason for the title.

It’s quite a powerful piece with how it builds up and the piano hammers it’s way along a repeating melody line and goes through some alternating melody lines over the first 3 minutes. There is a more of a progressive change in the section that runs between 3:13 – 3:41 were things speed up on the keys. It plays a repeated sequence of notes and then develops into something a bit more like a jazzy jam and then goes back into its main riff sort of thing to end it all off. All 3 musicians are working their butt off and it’s another GREAT! album track.

Track 7. Return To Text.

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This is a piece that is once again is more up-tempo but has more beauty evolving from the melody lines that Chris Illingworth has crafted out on the piano. There is perhaps a bit more sense of a purpose to this track in relation to the previous track and it’s a very well-crafted piece of work where Nick Blacka’s bass lines once again add some tonality and richness to it all whilst Rob Turner keeps it nicely ticking over. It’s a very pleasing piece to listen to and perhaps reflects its power more in its beauty.

Track 8. Reactor.

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The up-tempo and pace is further fueled and ignited and “Reactor” is a track that has more excitement and a bit more adrenalin thrown in with how it pumps things up and drives them along. Driving it along is very much Nick Blacka’s powerful bass line and it ignites the flame. Musically this piece was most likely structured around his bass line and whilst Rob Turner’s drums provide the right amount of heat Chris Illingworth’s piano provides the right fuel to build it all up and it cooks very well along on gas.

Overall, “Reactor” is quite a powerful track that maintains its high driven energy throughout most of its 6 minutes and 17 seconds only dropping off the pedal on a short couple of occasions. It’s another really GREAT! album track and contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 9. Window.

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The album closes up with a lovely piece entitled “Window” which could be seen as the exit point whatever way you look through it sort of thing. Whatever is in this window has been very well constructed and its musical structure would most definitely have come from the piano and it really is a GORGEOUS! piece of work that once again all 3 musicians have worked their butt off with everything they have thrown into the piece.

They also put out an official video which consists of a shorter radio edit of the track on their YouTube channel. There is some really strange things going on through this window by the looks of the video that was Directed by Antony Barkworth-Knight that was made with the use of CGI by Gelato Visual Effects and captured by Matthew Melbourne.

Window” ends off the album superbly and just like the second track on the album “Raven” it has all the right qualities to make another single release from the album. It’s very much my second favourite track on the album and a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!


To sum up GoGo Penguin’s 4th studio album A Humdrum Star. It’s very much an album that is on par and equal terms with their previous album Man Made Object. The difference between the two albums is really down to how they have stripped back more of the techno, trance, dubstep, and dance that’s more associated with the club scene and worked the material around more of the electronic side of music without all those modern attributes thrown into the pot. All the jazz, classical and hip-hop elements are still present as with all their albums and it is those elements mixed with some minimalistic electronic elements that maintains and gives them their distinctive style and is the driving force behind their music.

You simply cannot tag GoGo Penguin down to one particular genre of music because there are several other genres of music that goes into fusing it all together. I would even add Cinematic to all the ones I have mentioned as well. The fact that they do work within all these different genres and manage to come up with consistent melody lines is what keeps their music fresh and why each album does manage to flow along differently from one to the next.

Personally, I do not see A Humdrum Star an improvement over their previous album Man Made Object because their 3rd album was where they had found their feet and could be seen as quite a step forward in relation to the bands first couple of albums. To be perfectly honest how they have stripped back on many of those modern genres that were fused into their 3rd album should by rights make this album appeal more to my taste. Simply because those genres of techno, trance, dubstep, and dance have never appealed to my taste.

But what appeals to me about the music that GoGo Penguin creates is really down to the fact that they are only using minimalistic elements from all of the genres they have managed to fuse into the pot, and they have successfully combined them in a way for them not annoy me and appeal more to me. What makes GoGo Penguin so successful is really their minimalistic approach to everything they do, even down to their album covers. Their music consists mostly of minimalistic motif’s and melody lines that would be completely repetitive if it was not for all the other things that is going on around it.


To conclude my review of A Humdrum Star by GoGo Penguin. I would say that once again the Trio have most certainly come up with goods in making yet another very enjoyable album that is filled with very well written material. It’s an album that has all the makings of pretty much a solid album worth of material with nothing disappointing along its path. My personal highlights from the album are “Raven“. “Window“. “A Hundred Moons” and “Reactor“.

Once again, the album is very well produced and the track placement has been given some careful attention in making the album flow along smoothly. I think all GoGo Penguin’s albums can very much be enjoyed from listening to them from start to finish with how well the tracks have been placed on them, and each one provides the listener with something a bit fresher to listen to and enjoy.

Coming up next for review is the final part of this 5-part uninterrupted series of GoGo Penguin’s discography. Their latest eponymously named album was released a couple of weeks ago and from what I have heard of it so far it does sound very promising and you can find out more has once again Lee SPEAKS! about music…

More Than A Pale Blue Dot Visualized Here…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Prayer. 2:54.
02. Raven. 4:57.
03. Bardo. 7:14.
04. A Hundred Moons. 4:27.
05. Strid. 8:10.
06. Transient State. 5:59.
07. Return To Text. 5:22.
08. Reactor. 6:17.
09. Window. 5:21.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.



Lee Speaks About Music… #154

Man Made Object – GoGo Penguin



Go Go Penguin’s 3rd album Man Made Object in some ways is a bit like the beginning of a new era for the 3-piece outfit or Trio. They had also signed up to a new record label and started to make more waves in gaining further popularity with their new modern approach to music. The American market in particular were taking more notice and it could be said that this particular album was the starting point that led them to the much further success they now have today.

Whereas both their debut album Fanfares and v2.0 were perhaps more of a jazzy, cinematic laid-back affair, they were now raising the energy levels and injecting more life into their music and heading in a newer direction with it. Both pianist Chris Illingworth and bassist Nick Blacka had also added some new effects to their instruments which revitalised and refreshed their creative juices. By now they were stepping more into the boundaries of electronic music and effectively giving that particular genre a new lease of life and attracting more attention by doing so.

I have to confess that modern dance music and the music that is found in the disco club scene is not my thing and never has appealed to my particular taste whatsoever. The electronic side of things however, was something I had been into many moons ago back in the 70’s and early 80’s with artists like Tomita, Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Vangelis. But those are the only artists I was ever really into regarding electronic music and I could not stand the likes of techno and rave and I very rarely bother with electronic music at all these days and can only listen to it in small doses.

In many respects what GoGo Penguin have done by fusing electronic music into acoustic instruments could be seen as an ART! in itself and has completely opened up that genre of music once again for my ears. This is also what immediately grabbed my attention and made me go out and buy their music.

These days they have been dubbed as the new Brian Eno and Radiohead and it’s easy to see why although I have to confess that neither of those have attracted my attention to go out and buy their music and from what little I have heard of Eno’s music it totally bored me to death I am afraid and no way would I buy it either. But we all have different tastes and no doubt the music of both those artists would also appeal to many.

The Packaging & Artwork…


The CD comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case which is a common and practical packaging and does a reasonable job of protecting the disc. The booklet that comes with it only has 2-pages and to be honest you do not even need a booklet at all for what little information this band give you. It does provide you with usual linear production and credit notes and on the inside has 5 graphic pictures of what looks like how they assembled the artwork for the front cover.

I do regard the jewel case as old fashioned these days and I do not personally think they give you the best presentation in relation to how cardboard DigiPaks & Digisleeves can be more eye catching and less boring and can present the album to look more like a smaller replica of the vinyl album. I would also say a bit more money as been spent in the making of DigiPaks & Digisleeves and they have more of a quality presentation which is why in general you do pay a bit more money for them and unlike CD’s that come in jewel cases they also tend to hold their price more.

I purchased my new copy from Amazon UK for £6.99 and I would have paid the extra if it was released in a DigiPak or Digisleeve. No doubt if they had of done it still would of held its price instead of dropping down to a lower price and in general most CD’s sold in jewel cases do drop down a lot more after a few years and can even be picked up for half price in most cases too.

As it turns out this is in fact the only album of the bands that was not released in a DigiPak or Digisleeve and it’s quite odd how it got released as well. For example, there is a Deluxe Edition that includes an additional 3 tracks that are remixes. But it was only released in the form of a Digital Download only. They also released the album on a Double Vinyl album to which included one extra bonus track.


Well I was going to say no prizes for guessing who done the artwork design for the album cover? To be honest judging by the minimalistic simplistic design I did immediately think it was done by Daniel Halsall. It’s just as well that I done some research as it looks like being that the band were signed up to a new record label, they got a new cover designer and Paul Middlewick was the chap who got the job.

By the looks of the album cover I think the band must of gave him some coloured Perspex to play with and I have to admit in all honesty GoGo Penguin’s album covers do make me laugh and look like something that came out of a lucky bag Lol… In saying that though at least this one is a bit more colourful and is fitting to the title that was given to the album. But they all look like the designs you would find in the templates you would get with a CD Labelling Kit.

To be honest you cannot really blame Paul Middlewick or Daniel Halsall for the simplistic, minimalistic designs and no doubt a lot of the input that went into the design would have come from the band and not them so to speak. Once again, the name of the band and album title was left off the album cover and GoGo Penguin are perhaps more interested in letting their music being the presentation and attraction rather than the package. I suppose in a way it does make a lot more sense too in that they want you to buy the album for their music more so than being enticed by the artwork.

I also think you can never judge a book by its cover and even I myself in the past have brought an album on the basis of the artwork and that is perhaps even more like buying a lucky bag and you can come unstuck and be disappointed.

The Album Man Made Object In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s 3rd album Man Made Object was released on the 5th February 2016. The album contains 10 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 43 seconds. It was the first of a new three-album deal that the band had signed up to with the jazz label Blue Note Records back in April 2015. According the to the bands pianist Chris Illingworth the title of the album was partly inspired by his fascination with ideas of robotics, transhumanism and human augmentation.

There is no doubt that the new direction and the material that was written for Man Made Object was certainly attracting a lot more attention. It was the first of their albums to break into the UK Album charts and although it only peaked at number 72 it is the bands most successful album here in the UK. With the band touring most of Europe and further afield in many other countries it was in America where they did attract the most attention and the album hit number 10 in the US Top Jazz Albums Billboard Charts.

As with the bands previous album v2.0 they decided to record the album in the same two studios Giant Wafer Studios in Wales and 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester and use the same producers, recording and mixing engineers Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. The only thing that had been changed was in the mastering department and that was done by Mandy Parnell at Black Saloon Studios in London. I found this interesting video of her on Youtube explaining just what goes into the mastering process.

Mandy Parnell has been in the music business for 25 years and has mastered literally thousands of artists music over those years’ way too many for me to mention but the likes of Annie Lennox, Bjork, Brian Eno, Adamski, Chemical Brothers, Glen Campbell, Goldfrapp, John Martyn and Depeche Mode are amongst a few of them. The material for Man Man Object was recorded between May – August in 2015 and mastered in the same year in October.

It was also in October 2015 the band were invited by the arts venue in Manchester called HOME to take part in a film project. The idea of the project was to have a few Manchester musicians write scores for silent movies which they would then perform live along with the film in one of HOME’s cinemas. They were given the opportunity to re-score Godfrey Reggio’s cult 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, which explores the relationship between humans, nature and technology in a blistering dialogue-free montage to which was originally scored by Phillip Glass.

To avoid any influences, they played back the film without the sound and worked on the new material for it and done their own thing to it. They got to perform it live at Manchester’s HOME Cinema but being as they had put a lot of work into it, they also played it at some of their live gigs.


GoGo Penguin Live At The Manchester HOME Cinema

Towards the end of 2015 the band got invited to do something at Abbey Road Studios in London as part of the TV series Live at Abbey Road that Chanel 4 were running at the time. They were really doing it has a test pilot most likely to extend the series and were going to make a show out of it with various other bands. Rather than waste the live session they decided to release the live material in the following year and put out a 4-track live EP entitled Live At Abbey Road.

Live album_Fotor

The Live At Abbey Road EP was first released as a Limited Edition on 10″ 45 rpm Vinyl on the 16th April 2016. Later on in the same year it got released as a Digital Download on the 2nd September 2016 and has never been released on CD. The EP contains 4 live instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 17 minutes, 58 seconds and captures the band playing live 3 of the tracks from their 3rd album Man Man Object and a new track they had written.

The recording took place on the 2nd December 2015 and was mixed on the road at Studios De La Grande Armée, Paris between the 3rd – 8th of December 2015. It was produced, recorded and mixed by Joseph Reiser and mastered at 80 HERTZ Studios by George Atkins.

Being as it was only a 4 track EP and was put out in the same year I decided to include it in this review has I did purchase the Digital Download from Amazon UK for £2.09p. I did also notice that the 10″ 45 rpm Vinyl EP was still available to purchase. But as I do not collect vinyl these days it was no use to me, and even if I did there is no way I would pay £17 for a 4 track EP so I am thankful I do not.

The first of the three live tracks on the EP “Branches Break“. “Initiate“. and “GBFISYSIH” all feature on their 3rd album and personally for me I do prefer the recording of the studio versions. The last track on the EP “Ocean In A Drop” did not appear on the album and was one of the newer pieces they had written. However, last year they did record a studio version of it and it was included on a 5-track EP of new studio recordings entitled Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film).

Overall, the Live At Abbey Road EP does not really give you anything that much different from the studio versions of the pieces they present to you live. I myself prefer the studio versions but no doubt the 3 guys can also perform their music very well live and on this occasion were perhaps performing it more of less like they done the studio versions and it was a bit like having the same thing twice sort of thing. There is a difference in the ambience in the recordings but that’s about it.

I do not see the Live At Abbey Road EP as an essential part of the bands discography and it’s certainly not worth paying the £17 or even more for it on vinyl. The price of £2.09p for the digital download I paid for it is really all it’s worth. It has been very well recorded but in terms of a rating I could only really give it 5 out of 10 even if it’s worth more, and that is really down to the fact it offers very little different.

To be perfectly honest I would rather have a live video of the band and that is still something they have never released. Yet there are some really good quality live concerts of them floating around Youtube. They have obviously been filmed and edited properly too and I am not talking about the ones on there that was caught on a smartphone from someone in the audience and a professional camera crew has been used. As to why a live DVD has not been released by the band is beyond me. I have noticed that they are only short concerts of them floating around the Tube but even though I still prefer watching those to listening to this live EP they put out.

With the band being constantly on the road it’s not unusual for them to post the odd live video of one of their pieces from time to time, and they do also put out official videos of much of the new material they write before the release of their albums and they can be well in advance before the album gets released.

Man Made Object is very much an album that could be seen as the bands turning point in relation to their previous albums and its certainly more of an exciting album. There is something quite unique, fresh and invigorating with how they have so successfully managed to incorporate many genres of electronic music into a band that look more like an acoustic jazz trio. There is way more skill involved in bringing electronic music to acoustic instruments and it’s something I doubt that 99.9% of electronic artists could ever do either.

The biggest majority of electronic music and all that retro stuff we seen with artists like the Pet Shop Boys, Madonna and so on in the 80’s is mostly programmed and keyboard orientated music. Technically most of the skill that is involved in electronic music is in the textures and the layering and not the actual performance and the biggest majority of electronic music is easy enough to play. In many ways it’s a bit like colouring and that is where its art form lies.

What I liked about artists such as Tomita, Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Vangelis I mentioned earlier is that they also used a lot of chord progression in their music. But even for them to bring their music to the stage they had to have many more musicians and rely on programming and sequencing. That for me is where the art of live music and performance is lost, whereas with GoGo Penguin you are getting 100% the real deal.

In some ways the music that GoGo Penguin is presenting could be seen as a welcoming return to pop music and I myself detested a lot of pop music in the 80’s down to the fact that is was mostly programmed very much like a lot of pop music is today. I even remember when we got into the 90’s and we started to see newer bands such as Oasis and Blur arrive on the scene and even though they was not my thing that for me was a relief in the way that we had a proper band of musicians making music again instead of all this programmed garbage.

Effectively what GoGo Penguin have done is taken some of the fundamentals from electronic music such as sequencing for example, and instead of letting a machine play it back their pianist Chris Illingworth is very much playing the sequence of notes in real time just like Tony Banks of Genesis would on “Return of the Giant Hogweed” for example. That takes a lot more skill and concentration to perform live especially when you are also playing lead lines at the same time.

Musicians & Credits…

Band pic_Fotor

All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Executive Producer Kerstan Mackness. Recorded at Giant Wafer Studios POWYS Wales between May & June 2015. 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England between June – August 2015. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered by Mandy Parnell at Black Saloon Studios October 2015. Artwork & Design by Paul Middlewick.

Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

There is no doubt that GoGo Penguin were pushing themselves and their music into newer territory and it’s instantly recognisable when listening to the bands 3rd album Man Man Object. More effect pedals were being used by both Chris Illingworth and Nick Blacka and they were further developing and crafting the sound and scope of their music even to the point of taping things to the piano.

It was also around this time that Chris Illingworth fitted Yamahiko Pickups to his piano which is a pickup developed and manufactured by Sonaresearch which enables the pianist to be able to hear themselves more clearly in particular in a live performance without having to hit the keys harder. They are also useful for cutting down vibration and feedback as well as other instruments bleeding into the mix. Nick Blacka also fitted them to his bass in the same year and they have used them ever since.

Many of the tracks that were written for Man Made Object were developed around Rob Turner’s electronic compositions he had created on Logic and Ableton to which they used as a starting point. The album has way less of a Cinematic approach in relation to their previous two albums and it centres it focus point more around the electronic dance music that is perhaps more associated with the music one would find nightclubs. It’s certainly one of their most adventurous and diverse albums so let’s now take a closer look at it has I go through the individual tracks.

Track 1. All Res.

T 1_Fotor

The album opens up with quite a dramatic entrance with the piano and strings and effectively Nick Blacka can be quite a cellist on that double bass of his and how he injects and executes them both into that trio which can be like having another musician making it a quartet at times. The way the piano and strings work together on the intro implants a picture in my mind of a castle by the sea which can be a force of resistance. Although the picture I chose here is another form of resistance.

I am pretty sure that is what the title is pertaining to and when the drums come into play it does sound like all 3 musicians have put on their armour and are putting up a defence rather than making a reservation. Although I could also quite easily pertain its title to resonance because there is plenty of that reflecting from the timbre in the music from the acoustic instruments and it does sound GREAT!

Speaking of GREAT! they also played it to perfection in this live video when they played at the Union Chapel in London back in 2015 before the album was released. I’ve been to the venue myself and it’s great for acoustics and ambience and the sound that was captured here is not that far off the studio recording.

All Res” gets the album off to a positive and promising start and it smoothly gets you into the right groove and mood for the rest of the album. It features some GORGEOUS! melody lines on the piano, expressive strings and excellent bass work and you can hear how well all 3 musicians have contributed to the composition. It really is an excellent well-structured piece that sounds like it was very well designed and engineered.

It’s very much one of the tracks that has all the makings of the single from the album with how it instantly grabs you and is my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. Unspeakable World.

T 2_Fotor

Quite a playful track on the album and one that is filled with bags of progression over its 4 minutes, 43 seconds and all 3 musicians are working their butt off here. The opening section is quite jumpy and quirky with the repeated motif that Illingworth plays on the keys and I like how the piano lines branch out and further develops itself along. It’s a piece which has the space for all 3 of them to work their way into it and comes down in sections. Blacka’s plucked bass lines and tonality he gets from the bass adds richly to the piece whilst Turner is kept busy throughout.

There is quite a bit of pace and life injected into this track and the repeated motif played on the keys gives me the impression of cars bibbing their horns in busy traffic. The whole piece is quite like travelling through a busy city like New York for example and it really is another superb piece of work very much like the opening track with how they structured the music. It was very hard for me not to give this the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! and it is without doubt a very strong contender.

Track 3. Branches Break.

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The more playful pace and fire from the previous track is settled back down and this is a piece that starts off quite dramatically and builds itself up and injects a bit more pace as it goes along. Once again it features some fine work on the keys from Illingworth and Blacka gets to utilise his bow on the strings although perhaps with less expression in comparison to some of their other dramatic pieces but both he and Turner pretty much have the rhythm and backline well sorted for Illingworth to play along too.

They also put out a video of them playing it live in a studio on their Youtube channel and called it a “Radio Edit” version. Though it’s hardly a radio edit at all and is certainly no shorter than the original track and they do tend to leave more than a 4 second gap between the tracks on all their albums for that matter. The other thing I noticed watching it is that some of the percussion has been overdubbed and is not played live and you can hear it around the 2:12 – 2:38 mark in the video.

Oddly enough Turner’s drums on this track are more profound and tend to make more of a statement than the previous which is busier. The other distinguishable thing is that on the studio version Blacka’s bass lines towards the latter part do stand out a lot more and sound lush and rich with its tonality.  Overall, “Branches Break” is another GREAT! track and it’s very much a piece that works extremely well with its build.

Track 4. Weird Cat.

T 4_Fotor

This next piece very much weaves itself along quite magically and majestically and both the bass and the drums are doing most of the work whilst the piano revolves itself around a wonderful melody line but is still also extremely busy. Once again, all 3 members are stoking up the fire and cooking on gas and raise up the level of the album by injecting a bit more life into it. Although I would hardly say that GoGo Penguin have not quite got the pace to rock things up but you could perhaps get up and dance to this one to some degree.

The title may have come from another one of Illingworth’s strange dreams, but then again this is an album where many of its tracks are more up-tempo and the music is more focused on rhythm and melody and the title would be less irrelevant. Especially in relation to the more dramatic side of things where the title would have more importance for the music to try and convey and express the given title has in the previous track for example.

Here is another really good example of how well they perform it live taken from their official Youtube channel, and this live performance was also from the same gig they played at the Union Chapel back in 2015 before the album was released and they do a SPECTACULAR! job of it.

It surprises me how this band have still not put any of their live concerts out on DVD or Blu Ray and they must have a rake of them that have been very well filmed. “Weird Cat” is another really GREAT! album track and one I would consider to be another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 5. Quiet Mind.

T 5_Fotor

Speaking of titles, I am not sure why they chose this one for this piece and a quiet mind is perhaps more associated with the picture I chose above and is a form of mediation. In general, meditative music is played at a very slow pace and is quite often like floating in space and soothing noises like the sea or that of the whale sort of thing. It’s more of a soundscape that does not involve melody or rhythm like we have here for example. It does however, have a pleasing aspect about the music they are presenting here and I suppose in a way that could reflect why the title was chosen.

It’s a piece that is driven along by a repetitive melody on the keys, a bit like its ticking away the time especially with how the percussion works in the piece. I quite like how the bass also works a bit of a counter melody into the piece. The melody line is quite bright and very catchy and instantly draws you into it. It’s another GREAT! track that you can also hear how all 3 musicians have contributed to it as well.

Track 6. Smarra.

T 6_Fotor

The title is derived from Hindu mysticism and mythology and is associated with weird dream and sleep paralysis all creepy stuff. This is one of the more adventurous and experimental tracks on the album and one that keeps the drummer Rob Turner on his toes over the first 4 minutes, 45 seconds and is the longest track on the album weighing in at 6 minutes, 31 seconds. It’s a piece that uses a ton of distortion and delayed effects towards the end with how it burns and frizzles its itself out. Mostly from Chris Illingworth although Nick Blacka’s bowed strings on his bass also add to the pot here.

Both Blacka and Turner work their butt off more on this track and the piano plays more of a dramatic role. The distorted effect can be quite intense and I remember in an interview of the band how they mentioned that some people were returning the album thinking there was a fault with the recording. But I cannot remember if it was this album or track, they were talking about. The intensity does burn out and it leaves a more subtle effect to end it all off. It’s a GREAT! piece of work.

Track 7. Initiate.

T 7_Fotor

This piece almost has an oriental flavour to it especially with its plucky intro to which Illingworth makes the piano sound more like a Koto. The musical side of things is very much constructed around the piano and its quite bright, melodic and glows with a feel of warmth that draws you into it. It runs along at a steady pace too with Turner adding some of his metallic objects into the rhythm section whilst Blacka works his bass into the piece as well as ever and also provides some effects with his bow on the strings on the intro and outro. Overall, it’s another GREAT! album track and has quite an upbeat groove swing to it.


T 8_Fotor

The title of this piece is perhaps more on the gibberish side and a could be seen as meaningless and GOBBLEDYGOOK! I could not tell what it means either although I did find out through my research that it’s a coded lament for an old friend. It could be that the “FI” in the code are the persons initials and it’s meant to say something along the lines of “Goodbye “FI” see you soon in heaven”. But I was never good at cracking codes.

It’s a very subtle, soothing and GORGEOUS! piece that also has a bit of an oriental and folky vibe and is quite dramatic and expressive. It’s also quite light and airy with the lovely ambience reflecting from the keys it sounds like its calling out to a lost soul. The bass adds a rich texture to support it along with the subtle percussion and this for me is another one of the contenders for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 9. Surrender To Mountain.

T 9_Fotor

This is another dramatic piece that has quite a purpose-built melodic structure to it and it captures the title very well. It’s very much more structured around the piano and Illingworth plays quite a majestic role on the keys carving it all out as it builds along. Although Turner’s job on the drums and percussion also have played a part in developing the piece and he gets to work them in even more around the half way mark where the piece further develops. Blacka’s role on the bass is perhaps a bit more minimalistic on this piece and it another fine piece work and GREAT! album track.

Track 10. Protest.

T 10_Fotor

The album closes out with the most powerful track on the album and where as they kicked it off by putting on armour and building up walls in the way of a resistance they are now marching out in force in protest to bring them down so to speak. Well I supposed it could be seen like that and they do have the force here to break through the walls and all 3 musicians are doing the hammering. They are also doing the opposite of the opening track on the album and are really ROCKING IT OUT!

NIck Blacka‘s bass on the track is quite breath-taking and it’s a wonder he has not got blisters with how he is picking out and plucking at the strings at this speed. To be honest it’s a wonder they do not all have blisters and they are all doing such a TOP JOB! here. “Protest” is quite often used to end off many of the bands live shows and I guess they like to go out in style and that is precisely how this truly GREAT! album ends off and it’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!


To sum up Man Made Object by GoGo Penguin. It’s very much their ground-breaking album and effectively it’s as if they have taken everything out of the music played by DJ’s in the nightclub scene and incorporated it into their music. It’s strange really because like I mentioned earlier in my introduction that the music found in nightclubs and all that modern electronica, techno, trance, dubstep, dance and so on is not my thing at all. Yet this album is my personal favourite of theirs for its diversity and the one I would recommend has an introduction for those who have never heard their music before.

To be perfectly honest I would not exactly describe the music on this album something you could dance along too and I was quite surprised just how well their collaboration with choreographer Lynne Page’s dancers very much shown that it could be danced along too. Strangely enough they also still occasionally play at clubs and their music is attracting a lot of attention from the younger generation, but because of its other influences it has with classical and jazz music it will also quite easily attract the attention of older folks such as myself.

It’s quite a step forward in relation to their first couple of albums, although you could certainly hear this newer direction, they were heading in on some of the material from their second album v2.0. Especially with the last track from that album “Hopopono“. It’s also a very well-produced album and in terms of sound quality the mix is slightly better than their 2nd album but it’s not up to the reference quality recording of their debut album and it is more of a headphone mix.


To conclude my review of GoGo Penguin’s 3rd album Man Made Object. It’s very much a solid album with the material that was written for it and a strong body of work. I would also say that this is their most exciting album especially in terms of the energy that drives it along and it’s as if each track was designed and engineered to run along like it does and the track placement is pretty much perfect. My personal highlights from the album are “All Res“. “Unspeakable World“. “Weird Cat“. “GBFISYSIH” and “Protest“.

I think by now all 3 musicians had got used to how each other ticks and works and this is what helped in the new direction they had further developed and paved the way for them to further develop their music. It’s plain to see how they have moved forward with every album and they are continuously improving all the time.

Man Made Object is very much an album that put more of a stamp on their particular style and made them stand out and sound even more unique. It’s very much the same style and pattern they have continued to work around and why they are attracting a lot more attention today. It paved the way for their next album A Humdrum Star that followed it and that is up next in my 5-part review in this series of the bands discography.

Electronically Designed & Engineered For Acoustics…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. All Res. 5:15.
02. Unspeakable World. 4:43.
03. Branches Break. 4:22.
04. Weird Cat. 5:39.
05. Quiet Mind. 4:23.
06. Smarra. 6:31.
07. Initiate. 4:47.
08. GBFISYSIH. 3:21.
09. Surrender To Mountain. 3:58.
10. Protest. 4:44.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #153

v2.0 (Special Edition) – GoGo Penguin



Within the first month of 2013 things were looking up for GoGo Penguin and it was in that first month of January that their debut album Fanfares was nominated for the Jazz Album of The Year by Worldwide Awards. I must admit that some musicians do decide to leave in some pivotal times and that is exactly what the bass player Grant Russell had done at the end of 2012. 

Although one could argue the point that at this moment in time that it may not have been a pivotal time in relation to the success that was about to come to the band much later on. But even at this point the band were making a noise and some headway to a step in the right direction and were more popular than Russell has ever been since he left. But for some musicians it’s not all about being in the limelight and they have to follow their own instincts and do their own thing.  

The double bassist Nick Blacka was no stranger to both Rob Turner and Chris Illingworth and he first met and played with Turner back in 2005. A couple of years later he met and joined up with Illingworth and actually replaced Grant Russell back then and as they had crossed paths with each other and were friends he was a natural fit and they have been together ever since. 

With the Trio now back in place again they spent their time on the road playing many live gigs promoting their debut album and working on new material for their next album. In the following year of 2014 the bands second album v2.0 was released and judging by the title that was given to the album it could very well have a double meaning. The band were also picking up more promising reviews and awards. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual. 

The Packaging & Artwork…


The CD comes in very much the same slim Gatefold cardboard DigiSleeve that their debut album came with only it also comes with a 8-page booklet and both the CD and booklet are retrieved from the both sides of the DigiSleeve. Once again there is no useful informative information and the only information to be found is the usual linear production and credit notes which are printed on the back of the booklet. 

It’s fairly obvious that GoGo Penguin do not like to give anything away about themselves and do not give a hoot about how they present themselves by being as minimalistic as you can get. All the pages inside the 8-page booklet display broken down images of the graphic image that is printed the front cover of the album. In all honesty I cannot see for the life of me why they even bothered to give you a booklet in the first place and what little information they have provided could of easily have been printed on the inside of the Gatefold DigiSleeve. 

I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £11.99 and as a rule I think it’s worth paying the extra one or two quid more and prefer both DigiPaks and DigiSleeves in relation to the plastic Jewel Case because they do give a neater presentation. But when I look at how minimalistic they have been with how it’s presented; it does make me wonder if it was worth paying the extra couple of quid. 


Once again, the artwork design for the album was done by Daniel Halsall and to be perfectly honest a child could of done it. There is no real difference with the designs that Halsall does to the designs you would get if you went out and brought a CD Labelling Kit like Surething for example, which basically comes with a piece of software to print out your own album covers and CD labels. If they are actually paying him money for his designs then they must be seriously crazy and have more money than sense. 

The artist and album title names have been left off although you could always re-use the round sticker the names are printed on that is stuck to the cellophane it comes wrapped in. Looking at the design or the lines on the front cover if you were to put the album on its side the lines would look like those you would find in the midi editor of a DAW such as Cubase for example. I hardly think it would catch anyone’s eye in a record store or pick up any awards for the best album cover. Basically, its simplistic, minimalistic and does not do a Dicky Bird for me I am afraid. 

The Album v2.0 In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s second studio album v2.0 was released on the 14th March 2014. The album contains 10 instrumental tracks and comes with an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 20 seconds. The album was very well received and was nominated for the Mercury Prize in the same year which is an annual music prize awarded for the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act. 

The album was also released on vinyl in 2016 and because the CD went out of print and they reissued a Special Edition that was released on the 21st April 2018 which just goes to show that even less impressive album covers can still sell very well. The Special Edition also included 3 extra bonus tracks and it came with an overall playing time of 61 minutes, 7 seconds. 

The bonus material that is included is very good and in total you get an extra 13 minutes, 47 seconds spread over the 3 tracks. Although I am not 100% sure but I would expect that the material would have been written around the same time they made this album or possibly left-over material that was written for their 3rd album Man Made Object. To be perfectly honest if it was written for their 3rd album, I could perhaps see why it was left off the album but the first couple of bonus tracks “Break” and “In Amber” I may well of swapped for a couple of tracks on v2.0. “Wash” is not a bad track either and I like the inclusion of all 3 of the bonus tracks you get here. 

It also interesting to note that they did make an official video release of “Wash” despite it not being included on the original album. I guess it was put out to promote the Special Edition that was put out much later than when they put out the video. As a matter of fact, it was 4 years later so they do not exactly rush things out. Once again, the animation for the video was done by Antony Barkworth-Knight who done the video for “Last Words” that appeared on their debut album Fanfares. 

Personally, I do not think the video is as captivating as the one that was done for “Last Words” and I felt that track from their debut album was a much stronger and positive piece of work. However, there is no doubt that “Wash” would of fitted on their second album because much of the material that was written for v2.0 does have more of a dark density feel to the dramatic side with how album flows along, especially in some of the latter stages of the album. 

The albums title is written like a version of a piece of computer software and it’s fairly obvious that the title is referring to the fact that it is the bands second album. But like I mentioned earlier it could also be seen like a double meaning and it could also relate to it being the second line-up of the band like a MK II so to speak. Personally, I thought more thought went into the title than the albums artwork. 

The band decided to record the album at Giant Wafer Studios which is a residential recording studio in the heart of Mid Wales in the UK. Although not all the album tracks were recorded there but they spent a couple of months with producer Brendan Williams who recorded and mixed the biggest majority of the album tracks there during March & April 2013. 

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Giant Wafer Studios

Many other bands and artists have recorded at the studios including the likes of Everything Everything, Chapters, Neil McSweeney, Dutch Uncles, Miraculous Mule, Pete Molinari, The View, Seth Lakeman, Dizraeli and the Small Gods and many more. To be perfectly honest I have never heard of any of them but then again, it’s very rare I take notice of what is out there these days and I stopped listening to the radio many moons ago now. 

The rest of the album tracks were recorded in August 2013 at 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester, England and were recorded and mixed by producer Joseph Reiser. The album was also mastered at the same studio by George Atkins. 

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80 HERTZ Studios

I think both studios look very clean and very well equipped but out of the two 80 HERTZ Studios does look very impressive and its very well detailed on their website too. Once again, I have not heard of any of the artists and bands that have recorded there and it does seem that fewer have and that might be down to the cost. But the likes of Aquarelle Quartet, Lang Lang, Skeltr & Kin Kail, The Courteeners and Mammal Hands are among the few. 

There is no doubt that GoGo Penguin’s second album v2.0 has been well recorded and produced. However, this album has nowhere near the quality of the bands debut album Fanfares when listening to it on your HiFi through loudspeakers and unlike that album this is not what I myself or many audiophiles would call a reference recording. Which I very much felt that Fanfares had all the makings of a high-quality reference recording that would easily stand out and impress the listener immediately. 

To get the best results out of this album you will need to listen to it with headphones and it is a headphone mix and a very good one at that. So much that even a 320kbps MP3 digital download will sound GREAT! in headphones and will bring out a lot more detail than the physical CD or vinyl album will do in a pair of loudspeakers especially regarding the characteristics of the double bass. 

The thing that is instantly noticeable on this album when listening to it on loudspeakers is that the bass tends to hang back in the mix which does not allow it to breath and come to the forefront to project a lot of the resonant qualities and characteristics the instrument has. When such an instrument has been very well recorded like it was on their debut album you should be hearing not only how the wood and strings resonate but also how it vibrates. 

Even though all those characteristics are present in the mix, it does not project that well out of loudspeakers and it’s more like a near-field mix where you have to get a lot closer to the speakers to get any real benefit out of them. If like myself you sit between 7 – 8 feet away from your speakers this recording will sound a bit harsh and almost like it’s been recorded in mono. You will have to sit right on top of your speakers to get the best out of it and that is perhaps the best way I can describe it. That’s why the mix sounds a lot better in headphones and you will get to hear all of those characteristics with them in a lot more detail. 

Musicians & Credits…

Band Pic_Fotor

All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Executive Producer Matthew Halsall. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Recorded at Giant Wafer Studios Llandrindod Wells, Wales between March & April 2013. 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England in August 2013. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered at 80 HERTZ Studios by George Atkins. Artwork & Design by Daniel Halsall.

Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The material that was written for the bands second album is more or less along the same lines of the material what was written for their debut album, certainly regarding the style of how it somehow fits into jazz with a more modern approach to that genre of music. However, I do feel that the band were making a few steps forward towards how they were now developing the music and had taken away more of the jazzier elements that was on their debut album to incorporate Dance, Dubstep and even Trance into their music and I have to admit it took myself a good few more spins to get into the album. 

When I ordered all 4 of the bands albums from Amazon this was the only one of them that arrived a week later and it was the only album out of the 4 that presented me with an harder task to come to terms with. But there are also some tracks on this album that point to that newer direction they would heading in from 2016 onwards, to which I feel there was perhaps more of an interesting change with how they further developed and crafted their music. 

The band may have been taking small steps at this point of their career but they were notable changes and it is interesting seeing how they progressed along their career to where it is today and there are some really GREAT! stand out tracks on this album so let’s now take a more detailed look at the original 10 tracks that made it up as I go through them individually. 

Track 1. Murmuration.

starling murmuration shaping a giant bird

The album gets off to a very promising start with it’s opening track and it’s quite a soothing piece that has an ambient chillout feel to it with how it opens up with the reverb that’s been applied to Rob Turner’s drum kit on the first few bars of the intro. Chris Illingworth’s notes on the piano also lend an hand to the ambient mood and feel of the piece and Nick Blacka has slotted right into the groove on the bass and with how he also uses it like a cello which adds a GREAT! effect to it all as it builds up to a crescendo before dropping back down for the keys to end it all off very solemnly.

The title refers to the phenomenon that results when hundreds and sometimes thousands, of birds fly in swarms swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky. Here in the UK it’s quite common to see Starlings swarm in from the surrounding countryside between the months of October to March and there can be as many as 100,000 of them in a swarm.

Murmuration” is another excellent piece of work and GREAT! track that demonstrates how all three musicians have contributed to the writing and how very well effectively they all work together as a combined unit and team. It’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. Garden Dog Barbecue.

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Quite often the names that are given to the titles of the tracks on the bands albums are the inspiration to work the music around and the picture I chose above is actually from the animal rights group PETA who displayed what looks like a dog being barbecued a couple of years later in London’s Trafalgar Square. It also had a slogan written underneath stating “If You Wouldn’t Eat a Dog, Why Eat a Pig? Go Vegan”. 

In an earlier interview I came across during my research the bands pianist Chris Illingworth explained the story behind the tile that was given to this piece and it came from a reoccurring dream he had where dogs were hosting a barbecue, and the dogs ended up cooking themselves. Very strange and weird I must say and dreams can often be like that and it perhaps reflects the rather bizarre music they have presented here. 

I have to confess when I first heard this piece, I thought they was messing about rather than being constructive and it took me a few spins to get to grips with the bizarre and quirky goings on here. I am used to quirky and strange things and being into Frank Zappa he can quite often have that strange bizarre quirkiness in the music that he writes. It can also can be avant-garde at times too and there is a bit of that to the piece we have here too I feel. 

There is no doubt the piece has been constructed together in fragments and the three guys have worked hard putting it all together. It’s piece that runs through quite a few changes or spasms with various time signatures as it goes along and even though it’s made up of minimalistic sections they are quite intricate you can see how well they have worked on it to be able to bring it to the stage and perform it live. That is perhaps the most impressive part of it all because they have pulled it off to perfection. 

It’s quite a party and exciting piece and the band have performed it live at many of their live shows and in October of 2014 they even appeared on the Jools Holland’s show on the BBC. But this live video I chose is from the bands Youtube channel of them performing the piece on the June 2013 a good 9 months before the album was released. 

There is no doubt all 3 musicians are working their socks off and the interesting thing I observed here is how the bass player uses his fingers on one hand and thumb on the other to make the effect that sounds like he is using the bow on the strings.

It’s quite possible that the same technique was used on many of the tracks on their debut album and to me it sounds like a bow was used on the strings and both Grant Russell and Nick Blacka do also use a bow at times.  There is no doubt that “Garden Dog Barbecue” is one of the albums stand out tracks and is very much another strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 3. Kamaloka.

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Kamaloka is often referred to as a place of desires and is associated with the spirit world or the astral plane and can be seen as a place where one travels to in the afterlife when one passes on sort of thing. The music that is presented here does have a sense and feel of travel about it and is on the move no doubt. It perhaps reflects a scene where one is travelling around the streets in a city rather than the picture I chose of crossing over of life from one world or realm to the other. 

The piece centres and is built up around a repeated sequence of notes on the piano and like the opening track it does have an ambient chillout feel to it. It’s perhaps a bit more laid back in relation to the opening track in that it does not build itself up into a crescendo and ambles itself along at more of a constant and steady pace. All three musicians work wonders into the piece and it is quite a desirable piece to listen to and another really GREAT! album track. 

Track 4. Fort.

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It’s time to put up some defence barriers and I presume that is the thought that went into this “Fort”. It’s a piece where the bass and a drums do some noodling around the piano and the piano itself is also noodling and echoing its way along effectively with the use of some delay in parts. It’s perhaps more of an effective jam rather than a composition even though there is some form of a structure to the melody line on the piano. It’s not exactly gonna set the world on fire but it has some interesting textures and I quite like how Blacka has worked the bass into the piece. 

Track 5. One Percent.

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The Trio give a lot more than 1% to this piece and it is certainly more interesting than the previous track and here you can plainly hear how they are fusing other genres of music into one big melting pot an effectively it works very well. For example, I myself have never been into trance or dubstep and personally detest those genres of music but how they have incorporated it into acoustic instruments does tend to work more in the way of a progression and is certainly more interesting and acceptable for my ears.

The title may very well be pertaining to the 1% of the population who are the richest and have the most money and own the most property, in other words the political power society. It’s quite a busy piece even though it starts off very slowly and builds itself up to unleash its power so to speak. It’s certainly keeping Turner busy on the drums apart from the short section where it does come down and Blacka adds some nice strings to it via the use of his bow on the strings.

The interaction between all 3 players is really good and has it builds its way up into a crescendo towards the end is where Illingworth works a bit of dubstep on the keys which effectively sounds like a CD when it skips and he’s got it down to a tee even to include it in a live performance. It’s another GREAT! piece of work and album track.

Track 6. Home.

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Home” is quite a pleasant piece and perhaps describes the comfort and warmth of home. It’s also got more of the jazz flavour in particular with the GREAT! bass work that Blacka works into the piece and it even kicks off with a very TASTY! solo from him. It was also the first piece that they worked on together when he joined them. There is some lovely chord progression that Illingworth works into it on the keys and Turner keeps it all ticking over in a more subtle laid-back way on his kit.

Track 7. The Letter.

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This is quite a dark atmospheric, dynamic and dramatic piece and strangely enough they decided to record it in the dark. It’s perhaps the most atmospheric piece on the album and cooks on a very slow burner but captures and portrays the drama of the contents that is contained within the letter. Which on this occasion may very well contain sad news about the loss of a loved one and is quite surreal with how it’s delivered sort of thing. Well that is how it speaks to myself and it features Illingworth playing more of a domineering role and it works very well. That’s not to say that both Blacka and Turner do not do their bit but it’s more of an ambient laid-back track and a good one.

Track 8. To Drown in You.

T 8_Fotor

This is the longest track on the album and more of the darker side of the drama is still present and the title might very well be pertaining to ones dying love for a person in wanting to lose oneself completely and consolidate their affection for that person rather than suffocate themselves by drowning in water so to speak. Although the music that is presented here does give you the feeling of being in water and sailing on the sea. 

It’s a piece that is worked around a short motif or melody line on the piano which is played repeatedly throughout the whole piece from when it comes into play around the 36 second mark. It could even be said that Chris Illingworth is playing the most minimalistic part in the piece in that melody line is repeated throughout. Though he does add some mice touches to it as it builds along and I should imagine it takes quite a lot of concentration to play and pull this off live. 

Even though the melody on the keys is the same throughout I can assure you that over its longer distance there is plenty here to keep interest and alleviate the boredom and this is where this 3-piece outfit really work as a team. Both Nick Blacka’s bass and use of the bow on the strings play a very important role and effectively it’s his contribution that gives it the feel of travelling upon the sea, Rob Turner’s contribution on the drums is outstanding and listening to the bass and drum section between 3:20 – 5:28 reminds me of “The Beds To Big Without You” by The Police. 

Surprisingly there are many pieces of music I have heard from many artists where I could easily accuse a piece like this of not going anywhere. But where this piece does differ is really down to how all 3 musicians have injected their own thing into the composition and that is where it works so well. “To Drown in You” is a really GREAT! piece of work and my personal favourite track on the album and it merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 9. Shock and Awe.

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This is another dramatic piece of work that would of most certainly of been written by Chris Illingworth being as the other two are barely in the piece. It’s also the shortest track on the album but only by 1 second. It’s a very solemn piece that is almost like being at a funeral and that would be down to the sadness and feeling of helplessness that is associated with the title of the piece. The piece does express and capture those feelings very well and the little nuisances of the ticking of the clock and other noises are captured very well and work very well in the ambience of it all.

Track 10. Hopopono. 

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It could be said that the opening and closing tracks of the album are bookends and they both evolve around the same theme in a similar way although this closing track does have a bit more life and pace injected into it. I would also say that both of these tracks are the stand out tracks on the album very much how like a single release from an album would stand out and hit you with more of a focus point that would instantly appeal to you and grab your attention.

I guess they seen it quite like that too and is why they decided to put out an official video of it on their Youtube channel. It really is a GREAT! track and has been played at many of their live shows. It’s quite a strange title and a word I have never come across before and the meaning behind it can be translated as “correct a mistake” or “make it right”.

The word itself comes from Hawaii and traditionally is practised by Indigenous Hawaiian healers and can even be used in forms of meditation and can also be used to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you”. 

I have to admit that reviewing instrumental albums is quite difficult specially to try and review each track individually. But what makes it more interesting is the titles that the pieces have been given and quite often I will come across something I have never heard of before such as the title that was given to this piece. In a way it’s a bit of a learning curve for myself with all the research I do and that is part of the pleasure I get out of reviewing the music I buy. 

I would say that even though the opening track “Murmuration” does share some of the same qualities to what we have here, the difference is really down to how “Hopopono” does tend to have more of an association with electronic music with how the sequence of notes are played on the piano and how it’s more driven along with its up-tempo. 

This track in many ways is where the band first made a further step forward to their musical approach that they would be presenting a couple of years later and would even quite comfortably of fitted in line with the material that was written for the bands 3rd album Man Man Objects. This is very much a very strong contender for albums TOP SPOT AWARD! and winds the album off superbly. 


To sum up my review of GoGo Penguin’s 2nd album v2.0. It’s very much an album that takes you along with the flow and is a very comfortable album to listen to with how all the tracks have been very well placed throughout the album. There is no doubt that the band are injecting more fusion of other genres such as dance, dubstep, hip-hop and electronic music into the pot and even at this stage and they were perhaps taking away a bit more of the refined jazz elements that was more notable on their debut album. Although the jazz and classical influences are still present. 

If anything, the album v2.0 has more of a Cinematic approach to music with most of the material that was written for it but it still works very well as an albums worth of material and is a very enjoyable album with a couple of exciting moments along its path. I would say that both the albums Fanfares and v2.0 are more of a laid-back affair regarding pace and tempo and there is very little on them that injects a lot of pace in relation the next couple of albums that were to follow later. 

However, there is no doubt that their first two albums still have plenty to offer and there is no denying their formidable style is still very much present and they both have stand out tracks too. There is a darker side to quite a bit of the material that was written for their second album and it reflects that very well in the dramatic side of it. My personal highlights from this album are “Hopopono“. “Murmuration“. “Garden Dog Barbecue“. and “To Drown in You“. 


The bands second album v2.0 is another very strong album and contains a fine body of work with the material that was written for it. It does not contain a bad track on the album and even though I mentioned earlier that I may have swapped a couple of tracks for the bonus tracks that they included on this Special Edition and had written around the same time. That is not to say that there are any bad tracks and was merely to point out how well the bonus material was also written. 

GoGo Penguin’s second album v2.0 was the last album to be released on Godwana Records and in the following year of 2015 they signed up to Blue Note Records (France) which is one of the many other labels that are associated with Decca Records. 

With the inclusion of bassist Nick Blacka there is no doubt the band were making further progress not only with how their music was shaping up and developing but also in gaining further popularity. But the key to their success is really down to all the hard work they have put into it, especially with their busy schedule of playing constantly on the road. With the release of their 3rd album they were without doubt picking up even more followers and fans along the way and were adding more fuel to light the flame so to speak. That will be up next in this 5-part series of my reviews.

A Newer Version Of The Band…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Murmuration. 4:12.
02. Garden Dog Barbecue. 3:44.
03. Kamaloka. 5:23.
04. Fort. 3:17.
05. One Percent. 5:34.
06. Home. 5:19.
07. The Letter. 6:10.
08. To Drown in You. 6:28.
09. Shock and Awe. 3:16.
10. Hopopono. 3:57.
11. Break #. 4:30.
12. In Amber #. 5:44.
13. Wash #. 3:33.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.