ALBUM REVIEW: Jagwar Ma – Howlin’

Howlin' artwork
Howlin’ artwork

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 11.36.33 AM

ARTIST Jagwar Ma

ALBUM Howlin’

LABEL Mom + Pop

RELEASE DATE 11 June 2013

10 | 10

“Come Save Me,” the first taste of Jagwar Ma’s debut LP Howlin’ washed up on shore January 2012, painting the Australian duo as that continent’s answer to The Beach Boys. The surfer vibe emanating from the single, screaming for placement on any and all summer playlists that year, was a far cry from the bleak winter days that accompanied the release. But just as anticipation for new music from Gabriel Winterfield and Jono Ma increased, there was silence. It wasn’t until a year later, in January 2013, that we heard the fantastic “The Throw,” with its flawless mix of genres that found the song landing somewhere between LCD Soundsystem’s frenetic electronics and Tame Impala’s pop sensibilities. Now that Howlin’ is here, it’s easy to see why the duo took the time they did to craft this instant classic.

“What Love” opens the album with its effortless blend of rock and electronica, carrying an urgency with it that doesn’t let up for the entire runtime of the album. On “Four,” lead singer Winterfield told Gigwise he wanted to create a song wherein his vocals are the rhythm section. The result is the most rave-y the band gets on Howlin’, and perhaps the most thrilling. For six-and-a-half minutes Wintefield’s indecipherable vocals form the backbone of the song while Ma pumps blood through the track with cascading synths that, rather than fighting each other for airtime, flow into each other to create a sound distinctly their own.

While there is a lot in this album indebted to house and electronica, Winterfield and Ma prove themselves to be competent at formulating catchy three minute tracks that could be replicated with just a guitar or piano. While the album version of “Come Save Me” veers towards the territory of “The Throw” and “Four,” other songs such as “That Loneliness,” “Let Her Go,” and “Did You Have To” fill the sonic space first hinted at on the single version of “Save Me” released in 2012. “Uncertainty” and “Man I Need” best morph the duo’s two seemingly at-odds areas of inspiration, with Wintefield’s beautiful melodies sitting right at home in Ma’s room of synthesized mirrors. The music bounces back and forth, reflecting onto itself, climaxing on the thrilling “Exercise,” which is beautiful blended into the end of “Man I Need.” In fact, the White Label Version of “Need” first teased earlier this year is that track and “Exercise” fitted onto the same label.

The aforementioned “Did You Have To” follows the “Man I Need”/”Exercise” couplet, featuring the most painstakingly gorgeous melody here, and gives way to the lovely closing track “Backwards Berlin.” An acoustic guitar welcomes the song as waves of synthesizers crash in the background. It’s the perfect comedown after the roller coaster ride that is Howlin’. After the howl, “Berlin” is the sigh.

“Why don’t you call me when you know how I feel,” Winterfield pleads on the closing track. While listening to Howlin’, it’s easy to forget that people are behind this glorious music. At times the music sounds so otherworldly it seems impossible to be the work of just two people. “Berlin” serves as an eye-opening reminder of the human touch behind the curtain. I’m not exactly sure how he feels, but it would be a shame if he didn’t feel as good as anyone that comes in contact with this glorious and utterly compelling work of art.


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