Sometimes what can make a band so much greater is the story behind it all. Gumshen, the progressive electronic pop-rock band out of Seattle, draws much deeper roots than your basic parent's garage punk rock fantasy. The story begins in 1980's communist Czechoslovakia, as guitarist and founding member Jan Ciganik escapes with his life to the great Northwest. Eventually joining the grunge band Ventilator, this was only the start of his musical career. Flash forward to the mid 2000's and Menthol James is formed. Over the course of seven releases and multiple musical stylings, Gumshen was slowly born and molded into the electronic progressive project it is today. Now, their story by no means over takes what makes the band great. A deep understanding of layers, dynamics, and atmosphere. An adept use of synths, guitars, tonality and rhythm, that created a Prog-rock dynasty. This empire is known as Progtronica.
Over the years the group slowly evolved their sound from simple hard rock, to grunge, to what it is today. Slowly incorporating more and more electronic aspects into their work. Bringing to mind the finer, more dynamic aspects of Minus The Bear, the progressive movements of Pink Floyd, and even the softer sides of Between the Buried and Me. Gumshen shows no signs of hesitance. The opening track is an electronic masterpiece that slowly moves from the synth heavy dark-pop of New Order into the spacious and flowing world of MInus The Bear. A heavy hitter at seven minutes and six seconds, the expansive space this song takes up is tremendous. One of the highlights is around the one minute mark, as the intro/verse abruptly is stopped by near white noise, only to continue with an only heavier pulse. A an athematic pre-chrous soon drops back into the verse, once again heavier and with more layers added to its already powerful barrack of electronic attacks. What is key to this song the use of layers, and as the band slowly builds into the outro, a Minus The Bear-esque cut that takes up the last three minutes of the song, one begins to understand the mastery Gunshem has over dynamics.
The country tinged, acoustic ballad "Fine One To Talk" takes things in all together different direction. Distinctly bringing to mind BTBAM's "Desert of Song," or the lighter sides of Pink Floyd. While many bands would have trouble putting together these two jarring worlds into one album, Gumshens does it with ease and grace. The listener barley turns his head as to ponder what they are listening too. As the song builds up, chaos begins to reign within the cavernous guitar tones created by Cignak. That soon overflow into a movement chock full of epic guitar arpeggios. Once again eerily reminiscent to the great BTBAM. "Liquid," the next track, holds the quality of exactly that, Liquid. A scattered, Radiohead-esque drum program falls all around the chilling texture of seething keyboards and dotting synths. Breaking into a funky body, Gumshen once again showcases the meaning of the word prog, flowing in and out of their watery atmosphere into a much more solid body of funk. Into the abyss the listener goes, as the band drops down thousands of feet into a dark world, minor chord changes are backed by pop vocals and hollow, icy guitar tones. Vocally one can hear Josh Hommes of Queens of The Stone Age or even Paul Banks of Interpol within this section. Then as if hitting the bottom of the sea, the song is filled with saw like synths, cutting through all space and time. A cold, hollow, smooth guitar floats above the listener, before the heaviest vocals of the album shake your sense of security. "Its all above you/its down below you."
While I could spend countless pages explaining the intricate details of every song on this album, I would rather leave something to the imagination. I can assure you however that Gumshen's Progtronica lives up to its name. What sounds like a planet where prog-Rock rules supreme, really is. Bringing together elements all across the board, its lush atmosphere projects the listener into something other worldly, where the senses are king and reality falls to a lowly second.