With their 2010 record, Monster Head Room, Ganglians moved quickly on from the sludgy lo-fi tripping of their first record toward another sound, inflected in comparable measure with sunshine, whimsy, delighted melancholy, and an undercurrent of paranoia. The latter was most evident in the record’s more overtly psychedelic compositions: the bat-shit powwow “Valient Brave,” and the slippery narcosis of “The Void.” The other traits turned up in varying mixtures everywhere. “Cryin’ Smoke” feels like an elegy to something that never existed, yet somehow never fails to bring a smile turning up at the corners of the mouth. “Voodoo” hung inebriated Beach Boys harmonies from a bassline straight off the Motown assembly line, wondrously. It was certainly not a flawless record, but there was something dazed and intoxicating about it that was completely, remarkably contagious.
Their return with latest record Still Living was then, unsurprisingly, an event sure to be greeted with enthusiasm and expectation. Enlisting the services of Robby Moncrieff, who has previously taken care of production duties for Dirty Projectors, they have made a big album, as in long, stretching almost to an hour, and one that is full of twists and turns, of ideas bouncing around, sometimes gripping and sometimes floating away without leaving much of an imprint.
It is all over the place, both in a good way and a bad way. Sometimes things are slow, thick and hazy, as on the subtly dazzling “That’s What I Want” and the weary breaking down of “Bradley,” as well as the first half of gritty psych-dirge “The Toad,” which eventually morphs into some sort of strutting and pulsing dance-rock. There is unhinged, high-on-pop mania, “Jungle”; skeletal, chilly and tongue-in-cheek indie-disco, “Things to Know”; and plenty of the reverbed-up sunshine harmonies they have given their own twist to: “Sleep,” “Evil Weave” and “My House” come to mind, among others. The choruses on those first two are pretty big, pretty rock ‘n’ roll, pretty close to driving me to ambivalence. Well, not so much on “Evil Weave,” but the moodiness of “Sleep” feels slightly undercut by the angst of the chorus, an impression deepened by the way the song later drifts into a warm gauze of synthesizer chords and sweet vocal repetitions.
And I guess that is how I feel about the record as a whole. There are things worthy of adoration and things that just make me want to (or actually) tune out. Probably for other listeners the turn-off and turn-on passages will be completely rearranged. One last example: “California Cousins,” begins as a pleasant enough tune, somewhat dour, a slightly sadder and less infectious relative of “Cryin’ Smoke,” but about three minutes in it becomes something completely different. The impression is of a hollow space filled by a repeated melody, an incantation, going up, moving down, swaying drowsily and sublime through empty rooms. There is plenty in that one small section to return to, to be absorbed by, and while I am relatively sure I will never be able to say that this record works for me as a whole it is full of songs and parts of songs that will draw me back into its big and wild workings.
Stream: Ganglians – “Sleep”