To say that social media has turned into an effective instrument for creating a false impression of connection is not a notion to be easily refuted. How could it not have? A good number of people have totally lost contact with themselves, so how could they possibly reach out and connect with anyone else? In the digital matrix, we feel alone together maybe more deeply than ever before. It’s a theme that has not exactly been trending in contemporary pop music. Maybe it’s not cool and sexy enough, or maybe it is an observation that hits a bit too close to home. However, it’s one of the lyrical facets on the new album, ”Alone Together,” by the progressive, Swedish power-trio, RIKARD SJÖBLOM’S GUNGFLY, to be released on 4 September 2020 via InsideOut Music.
This is an album about human relationships, whether from the perspective of social media, a parent and a child, or Rikard himself, regarding the progressive music scene. Rikard who, you may ask. Some prog aficionados might be familiar with his work in the Swedish prog monolith, BEARDFISH, a good while ago. He has also released two solo albums and collaborated with BOOTCUT. As of late, he has been extremely productive working with English prog outfit BIG BIG TRAIN while also taking the lead with GUNGFLY. The latter released their previous studio album ”Friendship” in 2018. On the new album, RIKARD SJÖBLOM’S GUNGFLY pays beautiful homage to the prog aesthetics of the 1970s without resorting to the ill-advised and infamous dinosaur tactics of the era.
That said, the album does open with a 13-minute epic, but as the title ”Traveler” suggests, the song is on the move, “like a bird in flight,” throughout its gargantuan length. Hammond organ and guitar weave an intricate web of progressive and modal twists and turns in such a way that it triggers fond flashbacks of vintage CAMEL songs and Peter Gabriel-era GENESIS, but without shrinking into a mere nostalgia act. Lyrically, the song is about ”a traveler who finds it hard to leave”; that is, about taking the leap into the unknown from a dysfunctional relationship and spreading your wings on the way down. The follow-up track, ”Happy Somewhere in Between,” continues to explore the theme of dysfunctional relationships with a bit more baroque rhythmic rumblings while maintaining a tight grip on them catchy pop-hooks. In a way, the song sounds like ATOMIC SWING or DUNGEN indulging in a bit of Canterbury prog. So, the best two words to describe the album would definitely be ”catchy” and ”progressive,” as much as it might seem like a contradiction in terms. It’s not. Rikard Sjöblom certainly has a way with writing melodic tweaks that stick onto you like glue.
He is also a master of playing with different, highly evocative moods. This is achieved, for instance, by deploying acoustic guitar arpeggios that spiral from one modal atmosphere to another, as on the track, ”Clean as a Whistle,” or by enticing onslaughts of unison riffs as on the track, ”On the Shoulders of Giants,” which also incorporates some highly impressionistic piano ornamentation. As a multi-instrumentalist, Sjöblom performs exceptionally well and better yet, without falling into the trap of showing off boring pyrotechnics. As this new album saw GUNGFLY recording as a trio, with brothers and previous collaborators Petter and Rasmus Diamant on drums and bass respectively; it needs to be stated that the trio dynamics work outstandingly well too. Every instrument means something in the mix. Petter has a nice vintage touch on the drums and Rasmus makes the basslines resonate with a somewhat Chris Squire-esque feel to them at times. Soundwise, the album is pure ear-candy.
In this terrifying new world, in which emotional zombies roam the streets in broad daylight and loss of soul seems to be an everyday occurrence, it’s no wonder people have grown reticent to form real connections with others and would rather seek refuge in the sugar-coated reality of social media. Although the title track, ”Alone Together,” is actually written from the perspective of a parent whose child is in a psychiatric ward for having lost contact with reality, it is something that our digital and artificial reality is also guilty of causing. Whatever the listeners look for in Rikard Sjöblom‘s latest offering, he wishes that there is something in there for everyone, enough for us to build our own relationship with the music. Perhaps it can make being ”alone together” just a little bit more bearable.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Happy Somewhere in Between
- Clean as a Whistle
- Alone Together
- From Afar
- On the Shoulders of Giants
- Grove Thoughts
- Shoulder Variations
Rikard Sjöblom – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Petter Diamant – Drums
Rasmus Diamant – Bass
Interview Phantom Elite – “It’s always good to share that feeling that none of us is alone in hard times”