Many years ago, on their album Dare, Sheffield’s Human League opined on ‘The Things That Dreams Are Made Of’, one such suggestion being to “take a cruise to China.” Now if Phil Oakey was to make that journey today – and provided travel restrictions had been lifted, of course – and extended it beyond the country’s mainland to the Republic of China he may well have come across the psychedelic duo Mong Tong if he had then walked down Guling Street in Taiwan’s capital city Taipei. The band name translates many different ways in a whole variety of languages but the one that siblings Hom Yu and Jiun Chi prefer – for these are the two men who are Mong Tong – is the Chinese interpretation, “the east-side of dreams”.
And through the eight tracks that appear on their debut album Mystery 秘神 the brothers readily achieve such a dream-like state with a record that relies upon intuition and the sub-conscious. Mong Tong do draw upon a wide range of influences from the Gamelan music of Indonesia with its strong communal spirit and equally-weighted emphasis upon cyclical repetition to the Californian cosmonaut Cameron Stallones and his neo-psychedelic vehicle Sun Araw. And they also allow Taiwan television shows, the paranormal, UFOs and Sonic the Hedgehog soundtracks to seep into their creative frames of reference. But you sense that it is the blood connection between the two brothers that remains the most significant factor in determining the musical direction they have chosen to follow.
‘Intro’ puts Mystery’s sonic wheels in motion, and with it the gentle repetitive whirr of Mong Tong’s metaphysical engine slowly begins to gather pace. Nothing seems especially hurried in the brothers’ world as their post-modern take on nostalgia continues on its serene, psychedelic, occasionally spooky trip through the recent past.
The album’s title track leans upon Mong Tong’s Far Eastern heritage for almost indiscernible support. The ensuing ‘Chakra’, also the record’s lead single, follows a similar cultural path whilst embracing sound samples of sword-fights and a voiceover which speaks about the links between Hinduism and UFOs. And thus, this often surreal, distinctive body of work slowly evolves and begins to take shape.
For all that Mystery relies upon the rhythmic techniques of minimalism and repetition it is a genuinely ambitious and expressive record. It draws you easily into its pulsing, hypnotic layers of synths, programmes, guitar and sound samples with an often-remarkable sleight of hand. ‘A Nambra’ brings with it an additional driving impulse to the record’s transcendental voyage before Mystery 秘神 comes to a euphoric close on ‘In the K. Court’, finally disappearing down some k-hole where King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ is the most unlikely guardian of that particular universe.
Mystery 秘神 on Bandcamp: https://mongtongggb.bandcamp.com/album/mystery