There must be something in the water in Australia right now. As Tame Impala climb the ladder of rock all over the world and cement their position as one of the most boundary-pushing bands around, their fellow countrymen Pond delivered one of 2012’s finest records with Beards, Wives, Denim before Impala-frontman Kevin Parker went off and created another record of the year with Melody’s Echo Chamber. Down under seems to be sweltering with psychedelia-inspired creativity right now, and young upstarts Jagwar Ma are the apparent heirs to the Australian throne.
Having already found famous fans in the shape of Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr, Jagwar Ma (Jono Ma and Gabriel Winterfield) are a Sydney-based trippy duo who aim to deliver “good vibes”. The real twist is that, far from being inspired by Sydney, the duo’s sound is more akin to Salford. Jagwar Ma look intent on bringing back the summer of love, incorporating Stone Roses grooves with Primal Scream youthfulness. With Temples’ star continuously growing in Britain, Jagwar Ma are undoubtedly the best equivalent outside of these shores. Noel Gallagher recently suggested that, should the band’s debut album live up to the hype, “the imperial forces shall be defeated”.
To their credit, if Jagwar Ma are under pressure to deliver with Howlin it doesn’t show. Opener ‘What Love’ brims with confidence; reverb guitars interweave with crippling basslines and a sense that Jagwar Ma are forging their own destiny themselves. With German producer Ewan Pearson at the helm, the duo recorded the album on a farm in Northern France with barely any equipment – not that this holds them back. Jagwar Ma sound as if they have been working with state-of-the-art gear and the majority of this record is avant-garde music inspired by past greats. It’s a brilliant concoction of effervescence, psychedelia and trippy ambience.
‘Uncertainty’ is full of revelling bounce with jangling guitars stretched over a drowned-out beat. The spectral nature of the guitars suggest Jagwar Ma could easily be mistaken for Primal Scream’s younger, tearaway brother; 2013’s answer to Screamadelica if you will. ‘The Throw’ displays their quality best with swirling riffs and a dazed vocal. Sprawling and epic, it wanders carelessly like a raver who has had too much, before drifting off in a wave of reverb-laden ambrosial beats.
When you think you’ve nailed down Jagwar Ma’s sound in your mind, they alter it and surprise you. It’s a testament to their ability and bravery that a band so young has the self-belief to continuously evolve (even from one second to the next). ‘That Loneliness’, for instance, is a short burst of garage-rock with a heavenly Winterfield vocal not too dissimilar to Kevin Parker. ‘Come Save Me’, meanwhile, strays into Tame Impala territory with crunching synths and plenty of effects creating a summery vibe. Both tracks are clearly radio-friendly and destined to be the center-piece of their festival set this summer.
However, there is yet more experimentation to behold. ‘Four’ sounds like some twisted amalgamation of house and rock which would suit a film adaptation of 1984 brilliantly. You just have to enjoy it. ‘Man I Need’ is doused with reverb and sounds like an angry Kasabian taking on The Stone Roses whilst ‘Exercise’ is urgent and progressive. It’s the album’s closer ‘Backward Berlin’ (no doubt a nod to their producer) that steals the show, however. As the song builds with swirling synthesizers, cymbals crash before anthemic “oohs” and “aahs” punctuate the most accessible song the duo have written to date. “Under your skin” breathes Winterfield, and he isn’t wrong. This record will embed itself in anyone who hears it this summer.
A true product of the times, Howlin effortlessly merges dance music with rock to create one of the best records this year. Whilst it may live in the shadow of the bands who have inspired it (Primal Scream, Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses), Jagwar Ma show they have an innate ability to create pieces of brilliance. Australia is clearly the breeding ground of a whole host of creative geniuses right now and Jagwar Ma are up there with the very best of them. Welcome to the summer of love.