Lose Yourself or Lose Interest
Howlin is the debut album from Australian newcomers Jagwar Ma. The duo have crafted a time machine of sorts, taking us back to several decades of influences that aren’t seen much in the current world of buzzworthy music. The rock here is spacious and drawn out and swirling in psychedelia, yet there are drum machines aplenty to pull listeners along and encourage us to move to the beat. Despite the electronics, this doesn’t sound like all the other electro-influenced fare of today. Those familiar with the various British rock movements of the early ’90s (that often referenced the ’60s) will know what is happening here: from Happy Mondays to Jesus Jones and a whole lot in between.
There are actual verse-chorus-verse compositions, but there’s a hell of a lot of sonic meandering and repetition as well; this is what stands out the most, for better or for worse. These lads from down under have a wealth of ideas, but editing is not their strong suit. When the looping has gone on too long and the singing finally starts, singer Gabriel Winterfield does a good job being punchy or doleful, depending on what the mood calls for. His voice is clear and sweet on songs like “Did You Have To” where he croons “you don’t know what it feels like to know you.” He can also cheek it up and really impinge.
“The Loneliness” has a four-on-the-floor rhythm and washed out vocals that conjure up plenty of songs you’ve heard, but doesn’t have much to carve out its own identity. The middle block of songs really gets nostalgic, with a succession of melodies, chimey guitars and touches of the Middle East taken right out of The Beatles and friends. Dead center on the album is “Four,” a hypnotic pulse of a song clocking in at over six minutes that really seems like more of a remix and maybe doesn’t belong here.
Howlin will excite some both as an homage and a sonic undertaking, but many will likely get lost thinking, “Oh, what does that remind me of?” When it all starts to sound like other things, there is the possibility for a much stronger point of view. And considering that this is their first record, there is plenty of time for Jagwar Ma to figure it out.