Alone Together might sound an appropriate title for an album in these weird times, but the themes that make up this latest Gungfly effort have little to do with the global situation. According to Rikard Sjöblom, the inspiration comes from “being sick of the sugar-coated reality of social media”, and we can all identify with that kind of frustration from time to time.
Alone Together is the latest album from Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, a vehicle which has taken over from Beardfish as his main creative outlet, when he’s not writing for Big Big Train. Anyone familiar with Rikard’s work will instantly recognise his eclectic style, rooted in prog but with so many other musical shades from hard rock to jazz and folk and all points in between. The sound this time is perhaps a little less cluttered, allowing each instrument to breathe in its own space, whilst of course maintaining his tendency to write quite quirky and complicated music. If you’ve enjoyed his last couple of albums, it’s safe to say you will like this. For this latest outpouring of musical ideas, Rikard has opted for the trio line-up of Gungfly, featuring the Diamant brothers, Petter on drums and Rasmus on bass. Everything else is performed by Rikard himself.
Traveler opens the album with an urgent riff driven with some busy bass lines, and we are rocking from the outset. It’s a lengthy piece which gets heavier and more frantic until collapsing into a more relaxed section midway through. Rasmus is especially effective with some of his bass improvisation adding depth, and there is a very tasteful guitar and keys section which is straight out of the Floyd songbook, circa Echoes, but we soon return to the more urgent opening riff to close the track out. So, 13 minutes but no flab so far.
Happy Somewhere In Between continues the up-tempo toe-tapping trajectory, with a piece which seems to be a diatribe railing at social media trolls, and is quite amusing lyrically. Musically, it’s a quirky jig with funky Clavinet-like keys and some almost rock-a-billy guitar picking. Despite the ranting words, it is actually a fun romp and obviously tongue in cheek.
Things calm down for Clean As A Whistle, which is a nice melodic track with a Genesis vibe, especially during the guitar and keys mid-section which are pure Rutherford/Banks in style. This is no criticism, because the song stands up very well on its own, and is the perfect foil for the title track which follows. This is the proggiest piece so far, again driven along by the brothers Diamant rhythm section. It is apparently about the relationship between a parent, and a child who has lost touch with reality. Mental health is an all too real theme in modern society, and rarely explored musically without being caricatured, which Sjöblom avoids. It swings between lush melodic moments and heavier edgy passages, and it works brilliantly well, and is my favourite track.
From Afar continues the theme of internet alienation in a concise acoustic setting, and shows how far Rikard has come in terms of songwriting maturity. It is perfectly placed before the final, and longest, track On The Shoulders of Giants, which is Sjöblom’s personal account of his journey in the world of music. I’m immediately drawn to a song which in the opening couple of minutes name-checks Frank Zappa and his second album Absolutely Free! It is an entertaining romp, and is heartfelt and honest, if a little ‘wordy’ at times. He talks about being shoe-horned into a music scene whilst shoe-horning his words into the verses, but his earnest love of music carries him through, and there are some great moments through this final quarter of an hour, climaxing with a guitar solo which is a passionate and fitting ending to a hugely enjoyable album.
I understand that there are a couple of so-called ‘bonus tracks’ which I’ve not heard, so I shall ignore them, but it’s hard to see how they would work after the epic finale of the album proper. I guess that’s marketing wizards for you! Nevertheless I have no hesitation in recommending this collection of songs; Beardfish may be dead, but Gungfly are sounding more and more like them, and that’s fine by me.
01. Traveler (13:04)
02. Happy Somewhere in Between (6:19)
03. Clean as A Whistle (6:24)
04. Alone Together (9:35)
05. From Afar (2:46)
06. On The Shoulders of Giants (14:50)
~ Bonus tracks (Limited Edition):
07. Grove Thoughts (3:25)
08. Shoulder Variations (5:23)
Total Time – 61:46
Rikard Sjöblom – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Petter Diamant – Drums
Rasmus Diamant – Bass
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 4th September 2020