Jagwar Ma like to mix things up. They like dance music. They certainly love 60s pop. They also seem to enjoy some experimental noise as well. But more than anything I think this very cool Australian duo like to write propulsive pop and dance songs that find a spot in your brain and don’t leave. As I sat listening to their debut Howlin I didn’t know what to expect. After the nearly 50 minute album was over I listened again. And again. There’s a lot to like. And a few to even adore.
I think because of the dance-y vibe that permeates this record there’s a lot of talk of the Madchester scene of the late 80s with bands like The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. Yeah, I can hear that. But Jagwar Ma are pulling just as much from modern bands as they are the not-so-modern. “Uncertainty” for example, has a propulsive beat with some great harmonies in the background bringing to mind The Ruby Suns and MGMT. It’s a club banger with a 60s pop aesthetic floating just under the surface. “The Throw” is a trance-like groove that seems to flow right out of the tail end of “Uncertainty” and slithers along for over six minutes of pounding bass and a reverbed vocal that sounds like James Mercer guesting with Disclosure. Then things get very 80s and upbeat with the great “That Loneliness”. Of all things it starts out sounding like, and don’t laugh, Madonna’s “Material World”. But don’t worry, Jagwar Ma puts it through their cool rinse cycle and make it something modern and fun. “Come Save Me” is another perfect pop confection, showing that Jagwar Ma isn’t just about the dance beats and Panda Bear-isms(though, this song sounds like Panda Bear doing his best Brian Wilson to stunning affect). All pop, gooey, and bubblegum “oohs” and “ahhs”, before fading out on a trance-like groove. “Four” sounds like a Django Django remix. “Let Her Go” is a tasty piece of British pop and rhythm n’ blues. It’s all blues swagger in the chorus with enough modern touches to make the song never come across as derivative. I can imagine Noel Gallagher pouting in his stately UK manor, surrounded by his gold chairs and the skeletal remains of John and George wishing he’d written this little ditty. “Exercise” is a damn funky song with Midnight Vultures bass all over this thing and what sounds like a Transmissions From The Satellite Heart-era Wayne Coyne singing. This will get even the gawkiest fella wanting to shake his groove thing. “Did You Have To” brings the Panda Bear vibe back, while “Backwards Berlin” takes the album out on a more ambient, atmospheric mood.
Hey, there’s nothing here you haven’t heard before. 60s pop, 80s drugged-out dance, and pulsating Indie rock ala Animal Collective and Ruby Suns. But what you’ve never heard is Jagwar Ma’s take on all of the above. Howlin is a hell of a debut record, and if it’s any indication of what’s to come we should be very excited.
7.9 out of 10