The Road to Awe
Michael Gungor Continues His Spiritual Journey as Weiwu

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of isolation.

As David Lee Roth once sang, I ain’t got nobody, so I’ve been riding out this pandemic on my own. Some days I’m totally fine with it – I’ve always enjoyed my own company, and I certainly have enough books, movies, TV shows and music to keep me busy for ten or so years. Some days (and even weeks), though, it all gets to me and I find it hard to motivate myself to do anything.

June, as I may have mentioned last time, was one of those days extended to a whole month. Getting out of bed felt like a triumph some days. With the world on fire and Corona still raging and my health fluctuating and having had no human contact since March, I honestly give myself credit for seeing the other side of the month. I tell you all this not because I want pity, but because I made a bit of a mistake last week and I want to put it in perspective.

I forgot an album on the Second Quarter Report, one that undeniably belongs there. I’m not sure how I did it – my only excuse is that there’s no physical version of this album yet, and I do sometimes find it difficult to bring download-only efforts to the front of my mind. (Although Fiona’s record is download only too, so whatever with all that noise.) This is my issue, definitely, but it’s another reason I don’t like paying for air, and will hold out for a CD release from all but the most important artists to me.

Michael Gungor is one of those, though. I think I hesitated all of five seconds before paying to download his new solo project under the name Weiwu. It’s called Are You Perfect Yet and it’s absolutely stunning. And I can’t believe I forgot about it.

You may remember Michael Gungor as one-half of the band that shares his last name. Quite a lot has happened since I named their album I Am Mountain the best of 2013. The band made a trilogy of excellent records after Mountain and then went on a farewell tour. Michael, who started his career writing liturgical music, underwent a deconstruction of his faith, exploring Buddhism and Hinduism. He now calls himself Vishnu Dass, partially because his own name, Gungor, is so entrenched in the music world he left behind.

His journey continues, but Are You Perfect Yet provides a musical and spiritual touchstone, giving you a glimpse of where he is now. And it’s far, far away from the music and spirituality he used to traffic in. It’s also far, far away from 90 percent of the music I own. It’s electronic at its base, full of programmed drums and synth washes, but it’s difficult to describe it from there. It’s an insanely complex electronic symphony with Eastern overtones and lots of beautiful melodies, and it is clearly meant to be experienced as a whole.

I say that because these songs bleed into one another, but also because they turn on a dime, going different places every few minutes, and the joyous disorientation feels like the intention here. No individual track – not even the catchy single, “Ya Wei,” the closest this record comes to a complete done-in-one tune – can give you the effect Gungor is hoping for. Are You Perfect Yet is a meditation, carrying you through from first note to last, and it is like taking your soul for a long drive.

Sufjan Stevens might be the best touchstone for this, and that is not a name I invoke too often. Are You Perfect Yet has the same electronic glitchiness and miles-wide grandeur of The Age of Adz, and it changes dramatically every few minutes, as if Gungor can’t wait to get to his next idea. “She’s Fire” is almost a pop song for a minute or two, but it lasts for six, and flips itself upside down more than once, crashing its own momentum to head off in new musical destinations.

There isn’t much linear about this record, but from a 30,000-foot view, it moves from laments like “Growing Tired” to joyous spiritual dance parties like “Ya Wei” and “Shiva.” And like most stories, it ends in death – the concluding trilogy, beginning with “Color on a Pale Dark Ground,” is among the most beautiful in Gungor’s arsenal. The closing track, “Stillness,” is six minutes of ethereal vocals surrounded by chimes and gongs, and it sends this out on a note that feels bigger than a mere set of songs. It’s clear we are meant to connect with something deeper, something eternal, through this music.

I still have a lot of listening to do before I can claim to fully understand Are You Perfect Yet, but that’s my failing, not Gungor’s. He certainly put a lot into this, and even in my half-dozen listens so far I’ve gotten a lot out of it. But this is the rare record that feels like it has only just begun to share its secrets. Luckily continuing to explore its contours is not even remotely a chore. I can’t believe its existence slipped my mind, because it’s easily one of the most memorable albums of 2020 so far.

If you’re wondering, Are You Perfect Yet would slot into the top 10 list at number four, dropping everything else down one notch. Hopefully I’ve made you want to listen to it, and if so, check it out here.

Next week, we have a ton to choose from, including the first new Rufus Wainwright pop album in eight years.

See you in line Tuesday morning.