Jagwar Ma’s Howlin’ makes you move

Jagwar Ma - Mozilla Firefox 1072013 100149 AMThe first longplayer from Jagwar Ma has been much anticipated. From popular previous releases The Throw, Man I Need and especially 2011’s Come And Save Me, Jono Ma and Gabriel Winterfield had a lot of hype to live up to. Aided in the final stages of production by Ewan Pearson, Jagwar Ma’s debut album Howlin’ delivers a cocktail of dance goodness and subtle psychedelia.

Album opener, What Love, builds on Winterfield’s hazy vocals, layering a crunching beat with a simple riff. The structure of this song sets up the rest of the album nicely, and precedes the brood of tripped-out vibes, musical orgasms and consequent transitions.

Uncertainty yet again starts simple, before climaxing into a dance-happy tune with a memorable and much repeated chorus. This remains steadfast as the rest of the song builds and peaks around it. Very catchy. Very cool.

Popular tune, The Throw, begins with some tribal beats, playing witness to Jagwar Ma’s penchant for genre-defying. It’s mellow and groovy yet concurrently something you could dance your feet bloody to. The jungle drums continue on That Loneliness. It and the later Let Her Go have an undeniable vintage pop charm – cute and fun, and good for go-go-dancing (always important). They’re the kind of songs which would have charted in the late sixties, and are a healthy mix of psychedelic and catchy-as-fuck.

Come And Save Me this time around has a fresh new edit; an understated surprise end to a song which has been heard many times since 2011. It’s a subtle but refreshing change.

Four and Exercise aren’t as aurally opulent as the album’s other tracks. They lack the genre-defying mix of flavours found elsewhere, instead dwelling purely in the realm of dance/electro.

Album favourite, Man I Need feels somehow like a throw-back to the 90’s, but too subtle to pinpoint what exactly creates this feeling. Nevertheless it’s a stupidly fun song. Winterfield’s beseeching howls sound positively joyful, even as he sings about rejection and pain “you’re not the man I need, that’s what you said to me, well let me show you babe, just all the man I can be.”

The transition into Exercise is sharp but also fluid, and comes naturally as the two songs were initially released as one on the white label version. This is the perfect example of Jagwar Ma’s first-rate use of transitioning – that the album flows so well that two songs could be one and, vice versa, one song could be two.

Did You Have To is super chilled-out and pretty goddamn sexy, mixing some dramatic drum-machine action with gentle electric guitar. It precedes the album closer, Backwards Berlin which is a beautifully dreamy and pensive final track.

From prior releases one would assume Jagwar Ma’s first album release would tiptoe on the borders of indie territory, but this is thoroughly a dance album. There’s not one track that doesn’t make you want to move – in either a sweaty-mosh-fist-pumping way, or a swaying-while-baked-through-a-sunlit-backyard vibe.

The sheer amount of mixed styles and sounds on Howlin’ is absurd. Though the individual elements of each song vary, their amalgamation creates a cohesive album. There are tribal beats, scuzzy-guitars, 80’s synth, 70’s pop, 90’s dance – and all with pristine electronic mastering. These genre-bending Sydney lads sure are ambitious to mix so many sounds, influences and styles in one album, especially their first. But luckily and miraculously they pull it off.

What aids in their overall consistency is Jagwar Ma’s balance of combining so many styles in songs with a dependable structure. They are more often than not simple to start, building through layered new sounds and then transitioning into what could easily be an entirely different song. It shows great promise from the young Australians; that they have so many different ideas they want to cram them all into the one album. However it never seems forced or gimmicky, but rather a natural progression of each song, almost like a stream of consciousness. But a stream of consciousness affected by gratuitous drug use.

bianca cornale
Review by Bianca Cornale.