Dwyer, Sawyer, Coates, Zoby, & Renteria: Gong Splat (2021)

Back from vacation and happy to see some more vinyl coming in from Castle Face Records. This time it’s the latest from John Dwyer and his constantly rotating assortment of musician friends creating more fuzzed out space jams that emphasize rhythms and soundscapes that harken back to krautrock while simultaneously pointing to distant, futuristic horizons. Call it Gong Splat, call it whatever you like, but know that like all of Dwyer’s collaborative projects there’s an undeniable pulse that will take you to points unknown in the universe.

It starts off with the title track, a propulsive percussive number that keeps you on firm footing, not really straying too far from what you’d expect from an improvisational jam featuring the likes of Ryan Sawyer on drums, Greg Coates on upright bass, Wilder Zoby on synth and mellotron, and Andres Renteria on various percussion instruments. It’s heavy on the rhythms, but the first thing that really drew my attention was the stellar playing of Coates on upright bass. His soloing comes into play on the next track, “Cultivated Graves” even more, weaving in and out of the lanes of noise conjured up by Dwyer (here playing everything from guitar and synths to pan flute) and Renteria.

The album is immaculately recorded: it feels like you’re inside the dark laying down on the studio floor as the band plays around you. I’ve lately been getting more and more into this kind of instrumental music, letting the twists and turns of the solos and refrains take my mind to places other than the stresses and anxiety of everyday life. In that regard this is probably my favorite release from Dwyer’s various sessions since his Bent Arcana release (also featuring Sawyer and Renteria) back in August of 2020. But where that had a more jazz feel to its compositions, Gong Splat goes more interstellar, happy to find currents of air to lift it out of the atmosphere and beyond. The ending of “Toagut” with its endless tape winding down into ethereal synth feels like an escape to me, reminiscent of the noodling of Townsend during Quadrophenia but geared toward more laid back psychedelic pastures. Wrapping up Side A is “Anther Dust” with more phenomenal bass work courtesy of Coates.

If you’re noticing a real lack of mentioning John Dwyer I think there’s a reason for that. Although he’s definitely a presence, bringing most of the melodic lines to the songs via guitar, these albums and sessions sound like an opportunity for him to provide the basic framework, and let the other players shine. As the second side opens with “Yuggoth Travel Agency” Dwyer’s guitar is front and center, firing off jazz-inflected Hendrix licks to ground the song in a recognizable foundation as the other players warp themselves around his rather simply lines. If anything it makes me appreciate the man’s vision even more – we already have his 1,001 permutations of the Osees to realize his unique musical vision; better to let these sessions emphasize and accentuate the other contributors.

And so with that we tracks like “Hypogeum” that skitter and slink in percussive waves that induce spaced out grooves and moods rather than feel like composed songs. There’s something thrilling about the shorter songs that make up the majority of the second half of Gong Splat – the ways in which the players cram in a myriad of ideas that all reverberate against each other yet are over in an instant (or a minute or two) create a sense of cohesion rather than a series of random squawks of sounds. In that respect the album has moments that remind me of Can, although maybe less brilliant, always adventurous.

That’s always something I can get behind.

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