GUAPO to Unleash New Album “Obscure Knowledge” on May 26

Guapo releases a new album called "Obscure Knowledge" on May 26

2015 marks the 20th anniversary of avant rock ensemble Guapo’s debut release (the Hell Is Other People EP on Power Tool Records), and the band celebrates this milestone by proving – with the release on 26th May 2015 of Obscure Knowledge, its 10th album and 3rd release on Cuneiform – exactly how far it has come since then.

While Guapo started out in the mid 90s as a heavy, London-based duo (Dave Smith - drums; Matt Thompson - bass) playing post-hardcore noise-rock in the style of the Jesus Lizard and Shellac, it has expanded significantly (in more ways than one) since. Skillfully incorporating more styles of music into their sound than there is room to list here, Guapo has become one of Europe’s most highly respected modern psychedelic/ experimental/ progressive rock bands.

Guapo - Obscure Knowledge

The band today remains centered around elemental, mold-breaking drummer Dave Smith, but the line-up that recorded Obscure Knowledge is that of a four piece group that also features Kavus Torabi - guitar; Emmett Elvin - keyboards and synthesizers; James Sedwards - bass).

After the epic scope of 2013’s History Of The Visitation, its previous Cuneiform release, the band had planned to challenge expectations by recording an album of short tracks. However, their extremely organic way of working redirected their music otherwise.

Kavus Torabi explains: “We rehearse and write every week – the way that bands used to. It was never the idea to do an album which was just one long song… if anything we wanted a change because the last few Guapo albums have been long pieces. We were thinking of doing an album full of short songs but then they kept on joining onto one another. We’d be ten or 15 minutes into a piece and thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if that section came next?’ or ‘Wouldn’t it be good if that theme came back in here but a bit different.’ And the next thing you know we’ve got one long piece…

A single 43 minute long track, Obscure Knowledge is a dynamic, fluid beast that takes the listener on a scenic journey through jazz fusion, New York minimalism, twisted funk, celestial drone, avant metal and many other less-easy-to-classify realms before depositing them somewhere completely afresh… and no doubt eager to repeat the trip as soon as possible. The work is indexed into 3 sections on the CD, to give listeners the opportunity to easily access and upload their favorite sections.

Smith, who is also a sculptor as well as drummer, looks after the aesthetic considerations of Guapo and is keen to provide a backstory for their albums. (2013’s History Of The Visitation was loosely based on the Russian science fiction novel Roadside Picnic - the novel that influenced Tarkovsky’s Stalker - in as much as the book’s narrative helped shape the structure of the music.) This album had a working title of Phanerothyme, after the title that Aldous Huxley suggested to Humphry Osmond in 1957 to name the newly synthesized mind-opening drugs such as LSD before the psychiatrist instead settled on the word ‘psychedelic’. When they found out that Norwegian space rock band Motorpsycho had released an album with that title in 2001, they delved back into Aldous Huxley’s writings and came up with Obscure Knowledge.

Guapo (photo by Ashley Jones)

Guapo (photo by Ashley Jones)

Dave Smith explains: “The title of the piece of music and album is derived from the psychoactive rituals of various Native American tribes people who are said to “tap into obscure knowledge” when performing certain rituals and rites of passage. The phrase also appears in Aldous Huxley’s Doors Of Perception: ‘In the final stage of egolessness there is an “obscure knowledge” that all is in all—that all is actually each. This is as near, I take it, as a finite mind can ever come to perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe.

After an intense amount of practice, the album Obscure Knowledge was recorded at highly regarded analog/digital studio Orgone in North London under the watchful eye of the band’s long time engineer Antti Uusimaki. A special guest during the sessions was former Coil musician Michael J. York on pipes – a more recent collaborator of Smith’s. Says Smith: “We are both involved with Cyclobe and Mike also performs (and is currently recording) with me in my project The Stargazer’s Assistant. The central drone section was planned quite early on with him in mind as we had been working on a Stargazer’s recording together exploring similar tones and textures. On Visitation I constructed the more textural elements in the studio with synths and odd percussive sounds and also via remote recording sessions with Dave Newhouse and Tom Scott from The Muffins who play reeds & horns on the intro to ‘The Pilman Radiant’. So it was good to build on this and actually work together with a new collaborator and a unique array of instruments to achieve these most ‘obscure’ sounds.”

Guapo will follow the May 2015 release of Obscure Knowledge with several festival performances, including the Raw Power festival (May 22) and the Supernormal festival, (August 7-9). These live shows will feature new bass player Sam Warren from Thumpermonkey, as James Sedwards is busy touring as a guitarist in Thurston Moore’s band. Kavus Torabi says: “Who can begrudge James this opportunity? It’s like finding the golden ticket. Sam is a really incredible bass player… I haven’t even been able to work out how he might influence Guapo’s music in the future, he’s so good. Plus he looks a lot like Dave, so visually it’s quite pleasing!

Torabi confirms that through albums like Obscure Knowledge, Guapo is committed more than ever to composing and playing inventive new music. He says: “Attacking the boundaries of music is a really tricky thing. Most of what I hear that comes under the umbrella of prog is actually incredibly regressive and dull. But it’s not like we stand around saying, ‘We need to push boundaries.’ For me personally if anything sounds too much like something from the olden days, my alarm bells go off. But really it’s about four people playing together and respecting each other. All four people are trying to serve what the music does – not themselves. It’s very democratic. But Dave tends to be the guy with whom the buck stops though and if it’s ever going in a direction that he doesn’t like he’ll say no. And you need to have that one guy – the person who has a clear vision of what the group is.

Cover photo by Ashley Jones

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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