1. Forever Reoccuring
2. If Never I'm Ever You
3. My Sawtooth Wake
4. The Elemental
Gong offer an intriguing new model for band longevity. Rather than groups facing the prospect of merely becoming a tribute act to themselves, renewal and regeneration is possible if founding elders are willing to pass the baton on to younger players who don’t just knock out the old standbys, but embrace the spirit and philosophy that fuelled the band in the first place. This is exactly what Daevid Allen planned for Gong, and so far, it’s worked out spectacularly.
If 2016’s Rejoice! I’m Dead! was a confident assertion of the post-Allen band’s musical identity, then The Universe Also Collapses pushes even further out while retaining Gong’s sense of wonderment and mischief. Featuring just four songs, it’s an album that aims to “bridge the worlds of lysergic exploration and quantum physics,” with lyrical themes of rebirth and re-death seeking to rise above the petty affairs of Man… It’s also an attempt to make a genuinely psychedelic record for the 21st century, Kavus Torabi expressing disappointment with most music that goes under that banner these days – instead, “I want to hear music that makes me feel like I’m on drugs.”
Opening 20-minute track Forever Reoccurring makes a pretty good case for achieving this objective, establishing its cosmic credentials upfront with a shimmer of glissando guitar and pulsing synth. Torabi’s weaving vocal is like a spell, a stoned invocation of blissed-out clarity, borne aloft on Dave Sturt’s buoyant bass. There’s a big surge of chords and some excellent angular fretwork from Torabi – in tandem with Ian East’s playful but powerful sax, it’s difficult not to draw favourable comparisons with VdGG and King Crimson in their 70s pomp. It’s unhurried, discursive stuff, but you can practically hear the molecules buzzing in the song’s super-structure.
If Never I’m And Ever You is a short, nervy head-rush after a long trip, before My Sawtooth Wake takes us on another extended journey, only this time the terrain is a good deal bumpier. Fabio Golfetti’s glissando still weaves its magic, but the main riff is a tough, almost funky strut from a band getting ready to enter into battle with itself. There’s a weightless pull-back to the vocal, but the bass keeps bursting through, becoming more encrusted with noise each time. The Elemental brings the album to a blackly upbeat conclusion, East’s sax like the mocking tootling of faery folk as Torabi sings, ‘The world is ending just the same as it began.’ It combines the whimsical with the deadly serious in a way that Allen would surely have approved of.