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Jagwar Ma – Howlin’

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Ok, since you’re wondering: yes, Jagwar Ma really are worth the hype.

Howlin’ is a remarkable concoction. There’s nothing new under the sun, but the way in which Sydney duo Jono Ma (Lost Valentinos) and Gabriel Winterfield (Ghostwood) blend the myriad dance music signifiers on their debut effort is remarkable, not least for how seamless the final result sounds. You can pick out all the bits – of baggy (‘Exercise’), of British Invasion (‘Let Her Go’), of Northern Soul (‘That Loneliness’), of Beatles-in-India (‘Man I Need’), of Hot Chip-esque blip-pop (‘Four’) – but you still can’t help but wonder at the kaleidoscopic whole.

That’s because Howlin’ is held together by an absolutely rock-solid sense of rhythm. Ma and Winterfield have an innate sense of how many sparkling layers of harmony and astral synths a song can sustain before it becomes too unwieldy to groove. Under all this comes reliably streamlined beats and the deepest synth bass I’ve heard in a very long time. The extra layers provide endless interest for the ear, but they take care to make sure it’s built on hip-shaking foundations.

It probably helps that these guys have both been here before in their previous musical lives. Both have had practice at carrying off an album, and it shows. Everything has its place, and saggy corners are mercifully absent. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t some conspicuous highs, mind. ‘The Throw’ starts off as a joyous, unhinged slice of psych-pop and ends as a pulsing, minimal electro track. The change is so subtle and incremental that you barely notice. Also, it’s not the first thing you’ll notice, but Jono Ma’s blissed-out delivery is the killer ingredient, bringing a sense of wonder to the track and the album at large. And I still have no idea what he’s talking about. Likewise, ‘Four’ is a perpetual motion machine, various elements clinking and whirring as it rises to a joyous climax over a full five minutes.

Howlin’ is not just a great album, though, it’s a great album that’s every chance of outlasting the wave of hype that has carried it into the collective consciousness. Jagwar Ma manage to sound contemporary without leaning too conspicuously on any of-the-moment sounds to achieve that result. Years from now, when we’re cringing at the drops, the air-raid synths and the wub-wub bass that we all momentarily fell for, ‘The Throw’ will still be slaying the dance-floor at your nephew’s wedding.

9/10 stars

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