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Gong Gong Gong 工工工 - "Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 (幽霊リズム)" | Album Review

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by Patrick Pilch (@pratprilch)

Globalized music is categorically elusive; it’s amalgamous, natural and beautifully human. Varying perspectives push regional influence and individual backgrounds into unmapped territories, becoming musical inkblots of the worldly consciousness. Beijing-based duo Gong Gong Gong 工工工 are exporting their stoic strain of hypnotizing punk through none other than Brooklyn’s Wharf Cat Records. The band relays their hammering psychedelic blues from the back of a tireless nag, rhythmically blurring borders between styles and scenes across their excellent full length debut Phantom Rhythm.

Gong Gong Gong members Joshua Frank (bass) and Tom Ng (vocals/guitar) are from Montreal and Hong-Kong, respectively. The pair's Beijing rendezvous is just another pin in a yarn-crossed map of musical and geographic influence. While Ng sings in Cantonese, the band’s melodies and objectives are universal. The name Gong Gong Gong specifically comes from Frank’s deliberate misreading of a sign outside the band’s practice space, poking fun at his own challenges with the multi-tonal language. The rhythmic phonetics, the legible Cantonese characters (工工工); the name wraps itself in its own accessibility and modest insignificance to unpretentiously transcend language barriers and cultural boundaries. 

Ng and Frank work on a string - ten to be exact. The drummerless duo's signature Bandcamp tag becomes a titular maxim on their debut LP, as the “phantom rhythm” effect surfaces like never before. In fact, one of my initial scribbled plaudits commended the “dense drums” on the Muybridge-paced “Ride Your Horse,” an early highlight dwelling between clods of viscous bass and palm-muted guitars. The songs on Phantom Rhythm are strikingly noir and fully hypnotic. These elements collide most effectively on “Wei Wei Wei” and “Notes Underground,” which are, coincidentally, two of the catchiest tracks on the album. Phantom Rhythm is uniform and universal, a hyper layering of language, influence and the pair’s musical intuition.

In an interview with Interview Mag, Joshua Frank recalls Google translating poems back and forth as a teen, watching them slowly disintegrate into meaninglessness. It’s the perfect reflection of Gong Gong Gong’s contradictory omnipresence; their music is everywhere and nowhere, a transcontinental paradox. The band emanate the scrappy ethos of a working DIY band in China’s capital, performing in underpass tunnels, underground art spaces and just about any venue that will book a noise bill. With Phantom Rhythm, Gong Gong Gong represent a common denominator of global DIY, becoming ambassadors of the worldwide underground through a thoughtful collection of haunting barebones punk.