Coming off their sophomore effort, 2014's Barclaycard Mercury Prize-shortlisted V2.0, GoGo Penguin return with their equally ambitious 2016 follow-up, Man Made Object. A jazz trio at their core, Britain's GoGo Penguin have garnered well-earned plaudits for their distinctive, genre-bending sound that combines elements of forward-thinking post-bop with stylistic elements borrowed from indie rock and electronic dance music -- all without the aid of any actual electronic instrumentation. Showcased in GoGo Penguin are the talents of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner. Together on Man Made Object, they perform wholly original compositions that straddle the line between group improvisations and well-constructed thematic compositions. Cuts like "All Res," "Branches Break," and the driving, punky "Smarra," all have the signifiers of jazz (sophisticated harmonies, kinetic rhythms, and an introverted, exploratory energy), but play out more like an adventurous Radiohead track, or the soundtrack music to a '70s heist film. The results bring to mind the work of similarly inclined artists like pianist Brad Mehldau and groups like the Bad Plus and Medeski, Martin & Wood. There's also a ruminative, impressionistic vibe running through much of the material on Man Made Object that positions GoGo Penguin at the vanguard of the new British jazz movement alongside the likes of trumpeter Matthew Halsall and bassist Jasper Hoiby's trio Phronesis. Comparisons aside, what sets GoGo Penguin apart from their contemporaries is their inventive group interplay and knack for dramatic arranging. Often, Illingworth will set up a pattern on piano, like the spritely, dancing intro to "Unspeakable Word," and Blacka and Turner will join in, answering his pattern with their own contrapuntal footwork. Just as you think the trio are going to lock up legs and topple over, they fall into a gorgeous minor-key stride and dissipate into a sweepingly ominous mid-song bass solo. Ultimately, it's these moments of dazzling group dynamics that help make Man Made Object a jazz-infused work of art on GoGo Penguin's own terms.
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AllMusic Review by Matt Collar