Growing up in Sydney, Gabriel Winterfield and Jono Ma were never in the environment that pushed or even asked for the layered, spongy psychedelics of their debut album. As they told Under the Radar earlier this summer: “There’s not much a culture here or a desire for really great sound… as long as you can hear the band and it’s loud, it’s fine.” Given this, Howlin’ sidesteps seemingly every pitfall that would have made it just another summer album. Their sound, equal parts Beach Boys, Madchester and Tame Impala, is a three legged table the would topple over if their intuitive sense of balance wasn’t so finely calibrated.
Granted, the Madchester aspect of Jagwar Ma’s sound has been somewhat overplayed, particularly with the reunion of the marquee band of the era. But while the Stone Roses are inevitably the yardstick, chalking Jagwar Ma up as copycats is exactly the type of preconceived notion that dilutes the experience they offer. The versatility of their songs is their greatest strength, pulling shamelessly from what’s come before to create something that feels fresh. Lead single “The Throw” doles out ornate vocals, radiates with a sense of ease, gestures towards the dance floor and passes you the bong. The lyrics are hilariously, gleefully dumb, playing up the brain dead transience of summer: “Searching days and feeling/Coasting through your love/Watch the running river stream/ Till they call you love.”
The all-purpose songwriting, and especially the melodies earn Howlin’ enough good will to make up for some of the more plodding stretches. The sweaty jungle-house combo of “Four” seems like little more than filler to space out at during festivals. Even though it is flanked by the hooky 6’0s surf tune “Come Save Me” and the crackling “Let Her Go,” it’s the album’s biggest head-scratcher. Howlin’ again stumbles with closer “Backwards Berlin,” lacking what makes nearly everything else work: fun.
Jagwar Ma’s premise is inherently charming, and the best moments here blend that affability with their mass of influences. The rave-pop of “Uncertainty” is Caribou by way of Cut Copy; the deliriously catchy “Man I Need” is Primal Scream with a touch of latter-day Rapture. The pastiche is overpowering at times, reminding you of too many acts plus one, but Jagwar Ma’s happy-go-lucky brashness is irresistible. Mindlessly hummable and pure of vision, Howlin’ sounds just as good coming from your headphones as it does from Marshall stacks.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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