Album Review: Mong Tong 夢東 – Mystery 秘神

[Guruguru Brain; 2020]

Hailing from Taipei, Taiwan, Mong Tong 夢東 call themselves “a sample-based psychedelic trio”. The sampling and vocal duties are attributed to “仝,” while human siblings Hom Yiu and Jiun Chi handle other duties. Photographed with red bandanas covering their eyes, Mong Tong 夢東 evoke a sort of playful mystique, which they bring to their aptly-titled debut album Mystery 秘神, creating tracks that hook you in without playing their cards too soon.

Inspired by “the collective unconscious” and various cultural reference points, including Taiwanese art and video games, Mystery 秘神 is an album that paints vivid but abstract scenes as you listen. Though the sampling and nostalgia-focused concept might suggest Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica, a better comparison would be Forest Swords’ Engravings. These tracks are cloaked in an aura that greatly emphasizes the natural world, regardless of how many loops and effects pedals are employed.

Yet, Mong Tong 夢東’s experimenting also goes hand-in-hand with their compositional abilities. Every track here has at least one kind of melodic line that distinguishes it from the rest, even if some are harder to locate than others.

“Chakra” is a psychedelic haunted house, but the mellow basslines provided by Hom give it direction beyond being a sonic landscape. The title track concurrently features woozy guitar and what sounds like a dulcimer, allowing two waves of sounds to flow through, but still sound smooth. Even though these sounds have been sourced from all over the place – and not just obvious samples like a sword being unsheathed in “Chakra” – Mong Tong 夢東 make everything feel part of a cohesive unit.

Compared to more direct-contact preceding tracks like “Jou-Tau” and “717”, the stretched-out “Ancient Mars” can be harder to grasp. However, on repeat listens its billowing woodwinds and warbling guitar start to have their own sort of way of sticking to you. They also lead very well into the steady pulse of “A Nambra” and closer “In the K. Court”, the latter of which feels like being stalked while stalking someone.

There’s no telling exactly what impression Mystery 秘神 will make on you. Even after multiple listens, I still feel like I’m hearing it for the first time when I play it. Mong Tong 夢東 have made something that’s rewarding in both the short and long-term, and they have the nerve to make it look easy.