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Album Review

by Jagwar Ma

Marathon Artists

Review Date
17th July 2013
Reviewed by
Paul Larsen

For a country that pride themselves on advancing their own 'fare', Australians have clearly benefited a lot from building upon the 60's English sound recently. While Tame Impala and Empire of the Sun are easily cited as being the obvious champions of a rebuilt psychedelic movement, Sydney based two (and sometimes three) piece, Jagwar Ma, have taken the genre in another direction and to another level completely with much hyped debut album, Howlin.

As a disclaimer, Howlin is a record that well and truly wears its influences on its sleeves. So much so in fact, that to just highlight even the more obvious references would run the very real risk of turning this review into a laundry list of mid to late 20th century bands. Instead, it’s better to digest the album in isolation and treat the sounds as referential, rather than the songs themselves.

From the get go, Howlin is open and honest about its direction. Early track and initial single, 'The Throw', is a bit of a marathon at almost seven minutes but manages to stay fresh and fun throughout with a purposeful hand-clappy back-beat and wistful guitar. Layered, spacey vocals and punchy dance beats are introduced quickly as a staple of the record's sound while bright, reverbed guitars keep it all anchored with a live feel.

Amongst the onslaught of the retro sound and feel, mid-album track 'Four' acts as a low key intermission of sorts. The guitars are left in their cases and replaced with a subtly layered low-key electro sound which effectively cleanses your aural palate before the needle is dropped again on the beautifully recreated jangly 60’s beat of 'Let Her Go'.

There’s actually not a lot new here. You will have heard the individual origins of this record before in your formative years on family record players, old movies and in clubs. However, what makes Jagwar Ma unique is the way they compile these elements. Without a through-line or message to adhere to, what Jagwar Ma have done with Howlin is take eleven independent shots at making the coolest song they could with some of the most celebrated sounds in modern music.

At its weakest moments however, Howlin is perhaps guilty of throwing too much paint at the wall and having none of it stick. Later track, 'Did You Have To', is a good example of this, with the intended composition of slow synths, vocals and chilled beat coming off as somewhat aimless and flat.

Conversely, at its best, Howlin is a dazzling kaleidoscope of a record; bright and fun while managing to straddle that increasingly fine line between retro and relevant with certainty and a genuine sense of purpose. Maybe it isn’t the most advanced but this is Aussie fare at its most promising.


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