CD / D|L / Streaming
20 years after their debut EP, Georgian ‘indie’ act Sky Diving Penguins, releases their debut album, thanks in part to a chance meeting with former Manchester City legend Georgi Kinkladze.
This should have all happened a long time ago, but then maybe that wasn’t the right time. Some 20 years ago Gia Iashvili, or Sky Diving Penguins as he’s known, were feted by the music press following the release of their first ep, even mainstream airplay. In fact, things were so good, that V2 were supposedly about to sign Sky Diving Penguins. Until…well, nobody quite knows what happened next. A rumour suggests that Gia, whilst waiting for the label to give the thumbs up, decamped to Japan, whereupon he set about learning cinematography. Unfortunately, whilst practising Kyudo (archery) one day, an errant arrow struck his left ear leaving him deaf. It’s said that after a lengthy convalescence, Gia went to the Mount Fuji Five Lakes region to set up home as a hermit in a cave. Over eight years later, he reemerged from his self-imposed exile, and headed to the Georgian Embassy in Tokyo before making his way home.
It was then he bumped into the midfield cult hero Kinkladze in central Tbilisi. The former City player allegedly holding a frozen leg of lamb. Gia and Georgi talked; discussing the value of frozen lamb and its use in Georgian cuisine; reminisced about their time in the Red Army together and about Manchester. Gia was reinvigorated, rebuilding his fanbase, performed with Z for Zulu, co-wrote the 2016 Georgian Eurovision entry, Midnight Gold for indie rock band Young Georgian Lolitaz (they finished 20th, 4 places above United Kingdom) and has been the subject of a short film, “Better Than Dog”.
I think that brings us up to date. Sky Diving Penguins self titled album, more than 3 years in the making was self released on December 1st. Adorned by a cover made by the artist himself which had been planned for years, ‘I always wanted my first album to feature this artwork. It’s a picture of me from when I was a child, holding a toy machine gun; it’s kind of weird and cute at the same time.’ Described as a ‘a beautiful bucolic tapestry that doffs a cap to the likes of The Beatles, Bon Iver, Elliot Smith & Nirvana, twenty years in the making’. The artist explains, “every word and every note that I recorded on this album is honest. It took me three years to complete. This is also the last piece of work my producer and friend, Mark Tolle, was involved in. He died a couple of years ago. I wouldn’t change a bit of this album.”
Opening with I Don’t Want, I Don’t Care, a track that definitely has a late Beatles edge, more George Harrison than Lennon and McCartney, the album gets off to a cracking start. The next track is Seratonin which has a Nirvana feel to the lyrics but owes a debt to Super Furry Animals in sound. It’s worth considering at this point that Gia and his collaborators grew up behind the Iron Curtain, so obviously English isn’t their mother tongue. He explains, ‘although we grew up in the Soviet Union, we managed to get hold of copies of The Beatles albums (illegally). They had an enormous impact upon Sky Diving Penguins, as well as other Georgian artists like Nash Albert. To the extent that we only really feel comfortable writing and singing in English. We cannot imagine writing in Georgian. That is not to disparage those that do. It just doesn’t work for us. In the 1990s, we were free to experience the sounds of grunge and Britpop. All these melodies, harmonies, rhythms, arrangements and productions inform what we produce now.’
When you take that into consideration, it makes the album all more remarkable, and repeat listening rewards the listener. Hating Waiting is hauntingly beautiful with a 1967 Beatles feel to it (Strawberry Fields meets Sgt Pepper) and is followed by All Goes Back in The Box in The End. With it’s Dylan-esque mouth organ it advises us to not waste a second of our precious time, a similar mantra to recent single Run Boy. Although only 2 minutes in length it is my favourite track on the album, panned hard left for the opening 30 seconds it really ‘pops’ when it properly kicks in. It’s a short, fun track which has an retro feel, urges us to ‘find the place where you belong’. The added vocals from his wife, Maria, as they take alternate lines really has it finishing on a positive high.
Other notable standouts include Depressed Or Bored, with an Americana feel; About One Hermit, simple strummed guitar building with dynamics and harmonies; and the brooding Headaches Will Cause Migraines.
We may have been waiting for Sky Diving Penguin’s debut for 30 years but it’s worth the wait. Released a little to late to make it into the end of years ‘best albums’ lists, it would thoroughly deserve a place at the table. I’m hoping that while we are currently in a waste land of Adele, Ed Sheeran and Christmas compilations’ this shines through and is picked up as peoples first discovery of 2022.