Album Review: Ganser – Just Look At That Sky

Chicago’s noise-rock outfit Ganser took their name from the rare (and often dismissed) dissociative order discovered back in the late 1800s that describes an individual who essentially pretends to suffer from a disorder but actually doesn’t. It occurs in people with schizophrenia, though there are very few cases presently to study since most of the subjects only display this behavior for a few days, and then forget about it.

Perusing the tracklist of Ganser’s second album Just Look At That Sky, the similarities between the band and the syndrome are evident: “Emergency Equipment and Exits”, “Shadowcasting”, and “Projector” are all titles evoking some kind of paranoia or displacement found in those suffering from the disorder. And while the validity of the syndrome is still in question, Ganser take the description to heart, playing frenetic noisy art-punk that veers into multiple territories like a Ganser-inflicted patient dabbling in various disorders.

Dual vocalists Alicia Gaines and Nadia Garofalo take turns filling the record with lyrics that support this feeling of dread and hopelessness, but the duo also pair it with perseverance through the pain. On centerpiece and highlight “Told You So”, the tandem present a darkness and light alternation: “My insides are out to get me / inside out / I feel like I have 11 eyes / with nothing to see.” But then they add: “I’ll wake up tomorrow / I’ll wake up alright,” and even if there’s a bit of saltiness there it still casts some bright light on a record full of gloom. Even the light-hearted intro to “Shadowcasting” gives way to some kind of fear with its “lost and never found” repetition and later demands to “paper the windows / and lock the doors.”

On their debut record, 2018’s Odd Talk, the band kept things in the post-punk lane with straightforward rockers packed with hooks, but two years on they’re now pushing things to some unpredictable territory. A lot of what makes Just Look At That Sky work is Ganser’s decision to draw from the outliers of the various genres and meet them in the middle. While noise rock and post-punk do often coalesce beautifully, here they are purposefully building to that first meeting, like on the opener “Lucky” where the jagged guitars by Charlie Landsman push anything Garofalo sings to the brink. It’s a wonderful marriage of styles, and it elevates the album to great heights.

With all of this going on though, it seems odd to include a random instrumental track like “[NO YES]” right before closing out the album; it’s an unnecessary four minutes injected into an (up to this point) tightly-paced record. It doesn’t hurt the quality and is easily skipped, but its inclusion and more importantly its placement is slightly perplexing. The track doesn’t even segue into album closer “Bags for Life” all that eloquently, it just fizzles out before the rhythmic drumming of Brian Cundiff kicks it out of our memory. “Bags for Life” doesn’t really need a build-up though, it’s clearly Ganser’s most intuitive track to date, adding trumpet and trombone to the mix to give everything a fuller feeling.

Despite that minor hiccup, the second set from Ganser is enjoyable from start to finish. It avoids sounding too similar to their debut, but retains the likeable elements of that record with added gusto. They’ve come a long way from early singles like “Audrey” and “Pyrrhic Victory”, and now sound more in line with each other here as they move beyond that ‘new band’ status and settle into comfortability.