Goat - Commune | Album Review | By Volume

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Goat

Commune

Join in the ritual.

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Author: on September 16, 2014
8.4
Rocket Recordings / Sub Pop Records / Stranded Rekords
September 22, 2014

How do you follow up an album heralded as one of the most all-encompassing debuts in recent years? That’s surely the question that has occupied Goat’s mind since World Music took 2012’s end-of-year lists by storm; having the space to geek out on different musical influences – be they Malian blues or disco – without ever feeling convoluted or pretentious, combined with a gift of finesse to wrap it all into their own sound meant that Goat’s first full-length worked as a real tour de force of alloyed cultures and styles. The question of, “Where to next?” is a clichéd one as far as second albums are concerned, but it’s no less valid for an artist such as Goat, who appeared from an ether of nothingness to kick up such a storm – it’s the first time expectations have really been placed as a weight upon them. And with both a remix record and a live album out last year, I definitely harboured concerns about how much they’d milk the inadvertent cash cow before really building on World Music. On a superficial level, Commune sees Goat hone in on a fairly straightforward solution: punchier drums, meatier riffs and everything turned up to eleven.

The extent to which people talk about converging genres in Goat’s music can be nauseating, I know, and really they do have a hallmark aesthetic which it all falls under: golden string sparks forming a whirlwind around raucous red and brown percussion, stoked by a whip of ever-urgent vocals. That’s that psychedelic Goat sound. Still, wrapped between two Saharan guitar-led tracks in the opening chapter is “Words” — a steady, brooding new age jam. “Sing me your words”, is heard from the distance and it’s delivered in an almost deadpan voice. Of course they go on to submerge it in an extended solo so as not to completely surprise everyone. “To Travel The Path Unknown” is a morose Malian blues lament of labour and inevitability, picking up after “The Light Within’s” desert rock-funk twist. “Bondye” is brash and purely instrumental komische-indebted spiral of outrageous riffs and elusive melodies, whilst the bassline that carries “Goatslaves” ditches subtlety for straightforward catchiness. It all works, too. The tones blend into each other enough to make the sequencing easily feel right, however unlike World Music’s emphasis on continuous listens, Commune’s tracks have their own intros and outros and are easily chopped and changed to little consequence.

Some things have stayed the same. Like their debut, Commune sees Goat begin and end the album with a motif of ringing bells. They use it in a way that balances the momentum of the record, unlike the way “Diarabi” was used to bring World Music full circle. A zapping sound effect appears at the very start of the first album, returning to surface once more to kick off the final track on the new record, “Gathering of Ancient Tribes”. Spiritual themes are present throughout all of Goat’s work, and for all that can be said about their albums, most of their art surrounds their live performances. Referring to shows as rituals, their gigs are often an action of the two-way relationship between those that perform and those there to observe. Sure, sometimes they play shows to dazed and dazzled curious spectators and static chin-strokers and head-nodders such as at Glastonbury 2013, but I’ll wager that more often than not their gigs to dedicated crowds divert towards the way of their date at Koko, London in December ’13: attendees formed a vital part of that ritual and whatever was happening on the stage no longer mattered when “Diarabi” tore in and pits broke out to an African blues-folk cover. It’s the energy they thrive on and propagate outwards, and the track names and esoteric snippets of wisdom sampled in their songs are no change of direction; they’re more open with their spirituality now as they know anyone who has felt that energy in their art can connect with that too.

As Commune doesn’t operate in all the same spaces as World Music, both records expose different facets of Goat, working to expand on the self-portrait the band is painting. Their proposed backstory of esoteric folklore is unbelievable enough to drag the spotlight away from who they actually are, or rather, the idea of them having any sort of identity at all. When it comes to considering the ins and outs of their appropriation of other cultures, it has to be recognised that they are not appropriating the music as anyone, which seems intentional. Whether you believe their preposterous origin story or suspect them to be some sort of A&R dream brought to life, the fact remains that Goat happily work to instil an idea of who they are through their music. At times they play anonymous mediums to external spirits and at other times they seen self-deifying to the point of intangible abstraction, an inevitable force as opposed to an entity. At either end they’re as real or as far-fetched as you’d like to believe.

There are undoubtedly people who want to believe, but what it is exactly that people are buying into here is unclear. Commune doesn’t exactly tell the whole Goat story but it works as an expansion of the understanding we have. As “Goatslaves” rings out with, “Dying of freedom, dying of peace / Too many people live on their knees”, hints of some sort of pseudo-political direction, previously unconsidered, begin to creep in. Are Goat dissatisfied with capitalist, Western-centric living? I shudder as I recall their first instance of male vocals in the track prior, “Goatchild”, which would be all well and wonderful if it didn’t sound like some meathead in all-denim had stumbled out of an American bar to find himself on stage wrestling with the lead vocalists’ mic stand. Maybe it’s actually a drunken Jimi Hendrix grappling with Ali Farka Touré, because maybe Goat are Homogeneity Borne of Multiculturalism and Globalisation: The Band. Or maybe not, maybe it’s all just a bunch of sounds that happen to go really well together. One thing stands out though: since the first time I listened to Commune, I haven’t gone back to World Music once.

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