“Like most 20-somethings in 2016, her attention is not easily held and she’s not about to be told that she can only operate in one lane.”
“A nurtured, personal project that the two friends have harboured an ambition to complete for quite some time.”
There’s something timeless about Jagwar Ma‘s debut album Howlin’. While it was steeped in nostalgia for ’80s Brit-rock, it had an electronic element that looked towards the future, a future that we haven’t quite reached yet. As such, coming into album number two, the Aussie duo didn’t really need to change the formula. A Howlin’ part two, while not as exciting as the debut, wouldn’t have sounded stale. It’s a testament to their explorative nature then that Every Now And Then is not Howlin’ part two. Album number two reveals a funner, more melodic and soulful Jagwar Ma.
O B 1 was our first introduction to the album but in the context of the whole thing, it sounds the most like their debut of any song. It acts as a valiant centrepiece though and also a subtle introduction into Jagwar Ma’s new sonic elements. Those new elements are amplified on nearly every other song on the album introducing us to a band that have added rhythm and groove to their repertoire. That’s apparent by the third song of the record Loose Ends – a relaxed, horn-driven cut that has a certain effortless swagger to it. On top of that Give Me A Reason features their grooviest verse ever, Ordinary has a Mick Jagger-esque ego to it and Say What You Feel is the closest they’ve come to a triumphant anthem.
The thing that separates Jagwar Ma and Tame Impala from every other band doing psych-rock-tinged music is that they don’t have their heads up their own arses. There is a light heartedness and openness to cheesy melody that makes them not only unpretentious but also accessible. There’s elements in Every Now And Then that will please almost every music fan from the pop stylings of the Give Me A Reason verses to the throbbing techno at the tail-end of Say What You Feel.
While Howlin’ was also fun, Every Now And Then has a certain smiley disposition that’s infectious. Where a lot of Howlin’ sounded like the soundtrack of the AM in a European nightclub, this record feels sunnier. It’s like a woozy day party the day after a big night out. You’re still in a haze but as the first drinks kick-in and the sun shines, happiness returns and erases the patchy memories of the night before. Batter Up has that festival-ready glow to it, like the sun has loosened your limbs and made even the harshest of sights look pretty momentarily. Maybe part of this comes from the fact the album was recorded on a dilapidated sunflower farm in the French countryside.
There’s a frozen-in-time beauty to some of these songs that we’ve never heard from the band before. Slipping is a sprawling, expanding opus that slowly heads towards a percussive climax. Gabriel Winterfield’s voice floats with the music, sounding stunning but never sitting atop the instrumental, rather within it. This one’s an unlikely festival anthem but it’s expanding beauty is likely to have the same effect as RÜFÜS’ Innerbloom once they start unleashing it on glowed-up crowds.
The soft beauty of Slipping is distorted somewhat on the following song as they head back towards that glitchy, industrial sound they do so well on High Rotation. It’s the weightiest song on the record but in a way they needed to head down this rabbit hole momentarily for us to really enjoy the more soaring moments of the record. It’s hard to appreciate the high with a low, and this is that low. That’s not saying this song is bad at all. It’s one of the more sonically captivating cuts on the record.
For the rest of the LP, we’re thrown into the clouds. Winterfield’s voice floats on top of washy synths on Don’t Make It Right which leads us gently into the stunning closer Colours Of Paradise. Underneath gently strobing synths, the beat creeps up so that we end the record in true Jagwar Ma fashion – all things pulsating. Winterfield’s never been so soft and melodic vocally as he is on this one, truly making it a moment. As an album closer this is pretty hard to beat. It captures everything you’d want, bookending the album but also leaving a sense of continuity, like you could seamlessly return to track one and throw yourself into it all over again.
Every Now & Then is a perfect follow-up from one of Australia’s best bands. It continues on effortlessly from their debut while honing their songwriting and introducing new dimensions to their soundscape. It’s likely to retain fans of their earlier work while also recruit a whole other pocket of fans. While their sound is hardly reminiscent of Tame Impala, their sonic trajectory is in a way. They’ve shined up their sound a bit, getting rid of the rough edges while still keeping their skeletal base. It’s the mark of a band with longevity and Jagwar Ma have the legs to be up there with this country’s biggest musical exports.
“It’s devastating, furious and triumphant, all backed by one of the most cohesive sonic backdrops of the year.”
“‘Farewell, Starlite!’ feels like a body of work by a born-again artist.”
You hear the term ‘all killer, no filler’ thrown around a lot in music – mostly by pop artists trying to promote an album rather than four singles and a bunch of filler – but rarely is it a feat that’s achieved. Each year though there are a handful of pop-tinged records that do achieve it. Last year CHVRCHES nailed their shimmering, anthemic second record The Bones Of What You Believe In and Carly Rae Jepsen surprisingly delivered E.MO.TION which was basically just 12 bonafide hits. AlunaGeorge‘s second album I Remember sits in a more electronic realm but it succeeds in delivering the same thing. From start to finish, there’s not one track you couldn’t pluck as a single.
On paper I Remember shouldn’t cohesively work as a full project. Each song is a huge, festival-ready anthem and the list of collaborators is overwhelmingly stacked – Flume, ZHU, Yogu and Rock Mafia all have production credits along a host of others. It could be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen but it’s not. AlunaGeorge’s own style in Aluna’s silky voice and George’s slinky beats is so strong that the record stitches together perfectly despite an abundance of styles from dancehall (I’m In Control) to deep house (In My Head).
“I’m ready for anything, so let me hear the bell ring, light it up,” Aluna sings on opener Full Swing, lifting the album off the ground with blaring horns and a firing bar by Pell. Interestingly for an album so full of bangers, the pace of the album is slow to begin with. My Blood is brooding and smokey and Not Above Love is an island-flavoured, attitude-filled slow-burner. It’s not until Hold Your Head High that the dancefloor stompers begin. And once the flood gates have opened they don’t close.
Hold Your Head High is electro-pop at its absolute best with Aluna slinking around the verses before it ascends into a colourful, Major Lazer-flavoured drop. From that point onwards there are drops aplenty. Mean What I Mean howls with a dancefloor-tinged break and Jealous gets tropical with its drop. Sure, these kind of drops are very 2016 but none of this feels copied and pasted. The formula is switched up on every track and each song bleeds personality unlike some of the more monotonous material on DJ Snake’s debut Encore, released just a few weeks ago.
Aluna has a feel for melody on each song that adds a certain depth and stops each song from simply being just for dancefloor consumption. Hold Your Head High‘s verse is smoother than most we’ve heard this year and the title track wafts with nostalgia and melancholy, adding emotional weight bereft from most Flume productions. First single I’m In Control would’ve been a stomper even without vocals thanks to its Caribbean vibes but Aluna tackles the melody with a sneaky sensuality that makes it irresistible.
If you’re going to deliver an album packed full of bangers, you’ve got to introduce light and shade somehow and the duo give us that in the latter half of the record. The title track is a beautiful, sprawling piece and even the deep house-centred In My Head has a certain relaxed nature to its movement. The most down-beat moment comes in the form of Mediator – a soulful tale about Aluna guiding a friend’s relationship woes.
Even still, one of the record’s biggest moments comes at track 11, Heartbreak Horizons. Aluna sounds vocally grander and George goes big with horns and racing hand claps, delivering an unexpected triumph in the album’s dying moments. Heck, even the closer Wanderlust is a big, beautiful anthem. Everytime you expect the album’s energy to dip it doesn’t and while you can go ahead and criticise I Remember for being too trendy, you’re kidding yourself if you’re not entertained from start to finish. So many artists that used to deliver dancefloor stompers, namely Beyoncé and Rihanna, have delivered serious, powerful and great records but it’s great to know there are still artists around focussing on danceable records that pack a bunch.
Alongside Kaytranada’s 99% which AlunaGeorge feature on, this is the best dance/pop record of the year.