Since debuting their first collaborative effort, “Come Save Me,” on YouTube in 2011, Sydney duo Gabriel Winterfield and Jono Ma have continued to develop their sound under the moniker Jagwar Ma. With the track’s infectious vocal line and dazzling harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys, the oncoming wave of hype was imminent. Jagwar Ma followed their first single up with “The Throw,” a song layered in drowned beats that brings to mind the hazy psychedelia of Madchester— soon enough the band had fans like both Liam and Noel Gallagher. And if this duo can make the notoriously volatile Gallagher brothers agree on something, what can’t they do?
However the success of a few singles—no matter how infectiously catchy they are—won’t hold up if the debut album that follows can’t live up to the hype. Fortunately, Jagwar Ma were smart enough to know this. In an interview with Under the Radar, Winterfield comments on their success so far stating that, “These last 12 months have been about making sure we could back it up.” With that concern on the forefront of their minds, Winterfield and Ma set forth to create a debut album worthy of the buzz.
Howlin finds Jagwar Ma melding together the sounds of their past respective musical endeavors—Ma’s electronic know-how and Winterfield’s garage rock songs—and celebrating the diversity of genres displayed throughout the album. Their differing influences become the chaos that courses through the blood lines of Howlin. “Come Save Me” set the template for their psyched-out dance music but it doesn’t take long to notice that each track on Howlin explores a different aspect of the group’s aesthetic.
The album opens with “What Love,” a bass-heavy track loaded with 808 clicks and a cutting melody that float blissfully through a haze of squiggles and beeps. From there things only get more adventurous. Effortlessly transitioning, Winterfield displays an endearing vulnerability on “Uncertainty” when he sings the infectious repeated refrain of “How can you look so gloomy/When you’re gloomy/Howlin’ looks so good to me.” The track threatens to turn into an electro overload, but the vocals keep things grounded. There’s a deceptive simplicity to Jagwar Ma’s approach: They create textured anthems layered in complexity, wrapped in a façade of pop and compressed into four minutes or less.
It’s on their longer tracks however, that these complexities run on for what occasionally feels like an eternity, allowing their individual distinctions to melt into a pool of ethereal electronics and guitar riffs. The tantalizing techno-dance track of “Four” lets its Chicago house influence shine, while the one-two punch of “Man I Need” and “Exercise” is nearly 10 minutes of anthemic rock that plays like a more aggressively hook-filled take on Tame Impala. “Man I Need” is particularly impressive. The song’s acid house synths and its joyful piano breakdown accompany a mind-bending lyrical hook that also serves as a mission statement:”You’re not the man I need/You’re not the man I need/Well let me show you baby just all the man I can be.” This might be just the band we need this summer.