Review: Jagwar Ma

June 20, 2013

Jagwar Ma are Gabriel Winterfield and Jono Ma, a duo from Sydney, who recently exploded onto the airwaves with a string of successful singles and, now, their debut album, Howlin. Jagwar Ma’s music has been paralleled to that of the late 1980s Madchester era – which emerged out of Manchester through bands such as The Stone Roses and New Order as a fusion of psychedelic rock and dance music – though the likeness to that sound is apparently coincidental, according to singer Winterfield.

Howlin is a reinvention, coincidence or not, of rock ‘n’ roll meets psychedelia, with a twist of futuristic electronica. Think The Beach Boys meets Tame Impala with bass-heavy undertones, synth layering and vocal rhythms. With a purist approach to the collaboration process, Winterfield speaks of the duo’s respective role, “I’ll come in with something I’ve written on a piano or guitar, or he’ll [Jono] come in with a six-bar loop that he made the night before and we’ll riff on that.” With the album’s foundations predominantly electronic, Winterfield admits to taking on a role of a narrator in his songwriting, bringing a “real warmth” to the record. He describes the end result as a “conversation between our ideas.”

The duo have already released three singles, Come Save Me, Man I Need and The Throw, which all appear on Howlin. There’s a lot of feeling in the latest, Man I Need, and Winterfield’s aim to deliver character and personality in his vocals is apparent when he draws at listeners’ heartstrings, “That’s what you say to me, you’re not the man I need / Well, let me show you, babe, all the man I can be.

Jagwar Ma – What Love

Sucking you in with a dirty bass loop, opening track What Love incorporates textured layering and background vocals which slowly build to reveal recognisable lyrics, while dance floor-friendly Uncertainty‘s hybridisation is an anthemic musical creation. Showcasing the album’s title in the chorus, “How can you look so gloomy / when you’re gloomy, howlin’, look so good to me,” the two opening tracks will have you doing the one-shoulder knee-tap dance in your chair.

Stand out dance track Four is by far one of Jagwar Ma’s best tracks. Illustrating the creative processes, Winterfield admits he “wanted to write a song where the vocal was the rhythm section… I didn’t want to be singing – I wanted to be a drum machine.”

Jagwar Ma – Four

The album was recorded in Sydney, Berlin and France and remixed by renowned UK producer Ewan Pearson who has worked with the likes of The Chemical Brothers, The Rapture and M83, so it’s no wonder that the diversity and complexity stands out as more than just rock n roll meets dance music. It’s sharp. Becoming completely absorbed in the music, only to be drawn back by Winterfield’s ultra catchy and beautiful vocals, makes Jagwar Ma’s Howlin an album you can quite easily get lost in.