It is over five years since Australian psychedelic/dance band Jagwar Ma came into music. Their conception and upbringing have hardly been quiet and uneventful. The band consisting Gabriel Winterfield, Jono Ma and Jack Freeman signed to Mom+Pop records in 2013: a U.S. label; they also signed to Marathon Artists in Europe and Australia’s Future Classic. That all set the scene for their much-anticipated debut album, Howlin’. It was to receive some serious acclaim and there was never any case of nerves or a band taking things easy. Whilst a lot of their peers (in 2013) were releasing some rather safe albums: the Australian boys were burning bright and laying down their marker. Noel Gallagher, Foals and The xx heaped praise on it – they joined the latter on tour and gained a big fan following in the U.K.
Howlin’ was a trip back to the alternative rock days of the ‘90s via the lens of a modern-day Australian band. Not only (does that album) grind and swagger as hard as the artists back in the day – there are little elements of dance, shoegaze and dream pop to boot. In fact, it is worth having a list on hand and ticking off the genres. Like a wildlife enthusiast with a list of animals – ticking them off one by one with excitement – Howlin’ was a fascinating and primal creation that amassed critical affection and some serious love. Not just adding some gleam, polish and retrospective shine to the ‘90s: Howlin’ is an album that sounded new upon its release and deftly balanced the old and fresh; uniting genres, time periods and nations with aplomb.
The Australian band managed to instill elements of their homeland but their thoughts and soul remained split between U.S. rock and British alternative rock for the most part. Such was the effusiveness and near-hyperbole from critics; it is hard to follow an album like Howlin’ and create something new. The debut was a rare and special work that would have made the top-charting bands of the 1990s green with envy. It may have been three years since their debut but that does not mean the guys have been quiet and squandering previous time. Singles O B 1, Give Me a Reason and Slipping (out last Thursday) are beautiful windows into Every Now & Then. For those expecting either a radical reinvention or a replication of Howlin’ will come away embittered and angered. Here is a band that came in hot in 2013 and was not going to toss off Howlin’ Part II. Instead, Every Now and Then keeps the bedrock strong – mixture of genres and sounds – but updates their work and manages (if that is possible) to make it sound even more wide-ranging and itinerant.
The eleven-track album begins with Falling and instantly grabs the senses and throws them around the room. Echoed vocals and sound-snatches could have come off of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica – we are back in trippy, psychedelic territory. In fact, you get a lot of the ‘90s – acts like The Prodigy in the first moments – and the song conveys so many emotions and thoughts before the one-minute marker. Kaleidoscopic and entrancing; strange and dynamic in its progressions – like experiencing a strange dream and not being able to wake from. Winterfield’s vocal is plaintive and yearning as he is on foot “Living in a daze”. “Can we be real?” he asks of the girl as he looks for answers and honesty from her in sophomore track, Say What You Feel. The album, after the first track, feels like a narrative and concept: waking up in a haze and approaching a new day with purpose and regenerated passion. Say What You Feel opens its arms and the beats gallop away; the guitars are hazy and slight, whereas the vocals get bolder and more emphatic.
Loose Ends begins with tribal trip-and-beat; the bass swings and cocks its chin; the vocal is cooler and firmer – more confident and strident – and the entire song is rushing, funky and taut. You get caught in the dance and colourful swirl of the composition and the earnest and honest storyline. “Can’t you tell that I need this?” is oblique and “This ride feels right together” equally so, but you imagine your own scenes and cast yourself in the song. Batter Up is a definite highlight and is one of the calmer and more contemplative numbers from the album – that is until the explosion occurs. Warping, pulsating electronics score a chanted vocal and defiant mood. “Show me what you’re like without your gun” resonates with cockiness, directness and attitude. It is a song that has a great quiet-loud dynamic and is instantly catchy. Current single Slipping begins woozily and with a definite sense of dreaminess. Hummed vocals and a burbling-undercurrent-beat get the song off to a strong start: it is a track that builds its layers and grows into a wonderful slice of psychedelic pop-cum- alternative rock. Like so many songs on the album: it has a beautiful serenity but manages to balance that with energy and spirit.
Don’t Make It Right is one of the most intense, unsettling and strangely compelling songs. It is unusual but only in a universal sense – it sounds completely right when coming out of Jagwar Ma. On an album that mixes anthems and entrancing jams; stunningly wild basslines and wigged-out bliss; it is a come-down and calming number that still manages to provoke reaction and thought. The album is yet another multi-layered and sensational album from a band that keeps getting stronger. Not only have they managed to match the bliss, brilliance and accomplished musicianship of their debut – they might even have bettered it.
Every Now & Then is out on October 14th through Marathon Artists.