11 Track, LP (2013, Future Classic)
Related: Jagwar Ma.
Despite toeing the line between washed-out indie-guitar jangles and pulsing house tracks, Howlin is a surprising exercise in restraint. Surprising also because debut records are not usually like this – they should be overloaded, jostling with ideas that collide and crash at unfortunate times. Jagwar Ma seem to have happily skipped this stage of development, and Howlin unfolds as a highly sophisticated and mature release. Then again, it’s not like recording is new to Jono Ma or Gabriel Winterfield, who’ve been around the works with Lost Valentinos and Ghostwood, respectively.
This maturity definitely doesn’t equal minimalism though, and there is certainly no lack of sonic ideas here. They’re just deployed sparingly, for maximum impact. Check the gradual piling of layers on opener ‘What Love’, with the bass pushing the vocals and various electronic swirls into a thick pulse. Or the way the heavily iced vocals of Jono Ma hang over the muted beat of ‘Uncertainty’ before diving down into a sleek groove.
The forward momentum powers through the seven-minute epic ‘The Throw’, which turns some Beatles-style tumbling vocals into a slow-burning psychedelic jam. Between the stylised modern jams, the ’60s influence drips through in the bright pop bounce of ‘The Loneliness’ and the elastic psych chorus of ‘Come Save Me’. The latter’s lilting pop melody is pure radio sugar, bound for seriously high rotation.
There’s a palpable sense of ease on Howlin. Jagwar Ma are comfortable in letting the sounds stretch out, to settle and rest and become gradually hypnotic before introducing their next idea. Sometimes the sudden change jars: the switch up from the muted house of ‘Four’ to the Madchester revival of ‘Let Her Go’ is a bizarre step at first listen. That is, until the latter turns into a looped vocal chant. The best example of their penchant for the hypnotic comes in the quiet closer ‘Backwards Berlin’, with blended piano and acoustic guitar thrumming over soft imprints of electronica.
They’ve been firmly lodged within the hype machine prior to the album’s release, with the ever-reliable Noel Gallagher telling NME that no less than the future of the galaxy depended on its success. Lucky, then, that Howlin is thoroughly impressive. The galaxy will remain intact just a little longer.
by Jules LeFevre