Zenjungle is one of those appellative portmanteaus whose sum is actually weaker than its parts: zen – connotations of space and calm, of spiritual connection or even purification; jungle – denotes exotic and unexpected elements, wild and almost suffocating in its density. Both credibly suggest the sounds on offer in Flow, yet their conjoining lacks elegance. The man the word masks is Phil Gardelis, hailing from Athens. Perhaps it on some level reflects his city: a city of dissonance, beautiful yet in disarray; its ancient splendour interrupted by enforced modernity; the cornerstone of democracy yet politically frail today.
Such backdrop works as an abstract metaphor for the soundscapes offered on this tape, which seems to guide us through a city under the gentle cover of dusk. Although joined in a lethargic and often subdued ambience, each of its four lengthy tracks pokes its toe unexpectedly into a different genre. The most transporting and longest track at 12 minutes, “Constancy”, does so more than once, starting with layers of murky synth from which an amorphous two-note refrain drifts occasionally into view. A clean guitar surprises with its prominent and clinical entrance halfway through, conjuring up hints of prog as it ponderously ascends a scale to rise above the ambience. It’s in no hurry, yet carries an aura of expectancy with the swelling synths in support, as if we are crossing a threshold into a lesser-known part of town. The swells recede as the mist dissipates before us, revealing a new – and unexpected – domain. A single piano chord enters and repeats while a tenor sax embarks on a meandering solo – it strident tone piercing yet its melody somnolent, the piano plodding away all the while. We may have entered a strange and salacious place of dark jazz, but it remains part of the same, sleepy city.
The highly evocative sax has an even more prominent role in “Forever”, building in layers for almost two minutes entirely on its own – the voice of lonesome souls forever lurking in the most populous places on earth. A low phrase suddenly enters at 1:48 and segues immediately, beautifully into a growling, two-note synth line – the hum and throb of cities that never sleep. By comparison, the record’s bookends are more droning affairs. “Rivers” carries a sense of levity with its celestial-sounding timbres, while ”Wildflowers” is murkier, evoking a feeling of submergence with thick drones, field recordings, guitar and feedback that rumble on with growing intensity, but never truly crescendo.
That is the essence of Flow. It transports to different places with a sense not of keen adventure, but of languid fatalism. The emotional peaks and troughs of discovery and uncertainty are dulled to calming acceptance. Perhaps this is fate of all Athenians in such turbulent times. Where a tourist sees a city in upheaval, an inhabitant sees one in evolution. Where a pragmatist sees dissonance, a spiritualist sees flow. (Chris Redfearn)