Gumshen is a musical anomaly, truly merging elements of prog rock with modern indie, rock and electronica. Gumshen’s musical exploration is fueled by the love of artistic freedom. Their new album is Progtronica and is due out on February 11.
Gumshen are Ron Hippe (vocals, keys, guitar), Jan Ciganik (guitar), Dennis McCoy (drums, vocals) and Rich Hinklin (bass). From the beginning, Gumshen has been a band that embraces a wide array of musical styles. Influenced by Pink Floyd, Phoenix and pop, their sound transforms intellectually from modern to classic to progressive rock, pop and electronic dance, rap and funk, analogue to digital; usually within the same CD.
Gumshen started as a traditional guitar based rock band in a garage in north Seattle in the mid-2000’s under the name Menthol James. Guitarist Jan Ciganik escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia in the 80’s, found success in the 90’s Seattle grunge scene playing with the acclaimed band Ventilator produced by John Cale. Eventually he met up with drummer Dennis McCoy and others to form Menthol James. After a few line-up changes they were joined on bass by actor/musician Ron Hippe (broadway theatrical credits, Northern Exposure, Caspar Babypants with Chris Ballew).
The trio recorded a hard rock eponymous EP in 2007. The next year they changed their name to Gumshen for no particular reason and recorded their next EP, a grungy affair called Stew, with bassist and sound engineer Rich Hinklin (formerly of Jack Endino’s Reciprocal Recordings and currently a Sound Design Faculty member at The Art Institute of Seattle). This addition to the band allowed Ron to switch over to guitars and keyboards and expand the sound of the band.
Once the line-up was settled, the band soldiered through seven calendars of steamy summers and icy winters to practice, record and produce smart, eclectic EP’s each year and play alongside such bands as Minus the Bear and The Icons on stages such as the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon, Hempfest and the Bite of Seattle.
Their latest album Progtronica sees Gumshen shed all their many layers once more. Beginning track, Bell Ringer sounds like an 80s pop-rock track. Bell Ringer is a bit cheesy making it not such a good introduction track. There’s too much synth and this leads it to feel empty as a track – it needs more real sound. It’s repetitive – it sounds dated but not in a good way.
Stipulation helps to pick things up. There’s less synth and more real music. The vocals are also better – they’re stronger making the song sound fuller. Stipulation is a little Hello Goodbye inspired in places. It has an indie rock sound to it. It’s more uplifting than Bell Ringer as it oozes energy and a danceable beat. The lyrics “So glad you made it…” also aid this uplifting feeling.
Fine One To Talk features an acoustic guitar which brings a brand new sound to the record. The beginning lyrics are good, “You’re a fine one to talk/’Cause words disappear when you’re given the chalk/I will meet your demands/When angels and devils stop tying my hands.” Fine One To Talk is much more interesting lyrically than the previous tracks. It introduces Gumshen’s folk and acoustic rock influences. It’s a track that sounds completely different from the previous tracks demonstrating their better sound. Even if the other tracks seem disengaging, Fine One To Talk will get stuck in your head and allow you to come to terms with this band’s wide variety of sounds.
Liquid places this band straight back into the electronica genre. It’s a good song for sophisticated bars as it has that relaxing quality about it. It’s another song that proves the diversity of this band in making music. Up until this point on Progtronica none of the tracks have sounded the same. There’s strong lounge influences heard in Liquid making it an enjoyable track, especially when it comes to the instrumental parts.
Bait & Switch is very Dubstep inspired with Gumshen’s electronica influences being very apparent. It’s a rock/Dubstep track with little bits of Hadouken creeping in. The vocals and lyrics let this song down completely – they’re repetitive and a little boring. The dramatic music would be sufficient without the lyrics.
Progtronica shows off what Gumshen are all about. They don’t fit into one genre – their sounds are too diverse. Diversity can be a wonderful thing but Gumshen are hard to understand. Each song you listen to sounds like a completely different band – you can’t become familiar with this prog rock band in any way. They aren’t defined by any one thing. The songs are good not great but none of them can be easily linked to one band. In some ways this is amazing – this band is trying to completely break down the lines of restriction defining genres – but in other ways, this could be detrimental. People like familiarity, it makes them feel safe, and Gumshen lack this one quality. This isn’t to say that their rebelliousness to fit in isn’t appreciated and respected but Progtronica could do with being just a little bit more coherent.
Progtronica is due for release on February 11.