Jagwar Ma, who first put out versions of songs from Howlin well over a year ago, have finally put together a completed version of their throwback dance record. Comprised of Jono Ma (beats and synths) and Gabriel Winterfield (vocals and guitar), the band has been compared to those in the baggy, Madchester scene of the late 80s, but it is Jagwar Ma's ability to combine this with modern elements of synth-pop that makes their music undefinable. While no two songs are alike, there is certainly a distinct sound that blends fellow Australians Tame Impala-style psychedelic guitar riffs with Aphex Twin-y drum machine beats. In order to notice what really sets Howlin apart, turn up the volume to hear busy layers of harmony underneath the looping guitar and repetitive lyrics, adding depth to many tracks. This use of active background to add texture is reminiscent of J Dilla's production, as well as sample-fiends (and once again, fellow Australians) The Avalanches. In fact, over the course of the album, the unexpected nature of which patternless noises may pop up actually becomes strangely comforting.
The rhythmic Howlin opens with "What Love", which relies on a constant bass line, and has plenty of futuristic bleeps and robotic sound effects. While it is too dreamlike to be played as rave music, the patient listener is rewarded with a pickup at the end that helps transition into the more upbeat "Uncertainty". Here, we get some "Because"-style vocals as well as some predictably surprising background additions in the form of chimes. One of the album's singles, "The Throw", proves Jagwar Ma to be masters of the crescendo, and even has Winterfield literally throwing his voice. At first, the song features a welcoming bass and an underlying guitar tone so bent, it could be passed off as surf rock. "The Throw" then segues into not quite industrial, but still somewhat haunting Reznorian territory, before finishing with precisely funky drumming that could easily be the machine-like Reni. The subtler undertones of human laughter and moments of slinky reverb bring to mind the techniques of Ariel Pink. "That Loneliness" follows a more traditional rock structure, but continues the use of 1960s surf guitar mixed with some Odelay-era Beck vocals. A lot of Howlin centers on somewhat indecipherable repeated phrases as lyrics, with most pertaining to wanting love and not necessarily being loved back. "Come Save Me" is no different, and the utilization of an extended breakbeat outro is evocative of The xx's (who Jagwar Ma briefly toured with in April) recent, dancier release.
It is clear that the band understands the value of negative space, as they know when to pause and when to apply their tight hooks at the right moments. Expect their sets at major English festivals Glastonbury and Latitude to launch Jagwar Ma onto the scene of those who enjoy danceable tunes, but don't click with the current state of electronic dance music.
Howlin is available now through Marathon Artists.