Monday, August 29, 2011

Ganglians - Still Living

1. Call Me
2. That's What I Want
3. Evil Weave
4. Sleep
5. Jungle
6. Bradley
7. Things to Know
8. Good Times
9. The Toad
10. California Cousins
11. Faster
12. My House

Sactown janglers Ganglians conceived Still Living, their nearly hour-long third LP, as something of a clearinghouse. Working, as they put it, "with no metronome," they went into the Still Living sessions to stretch out their limber melodies, tamp down their nervous energies, and wipe away some of the murk of their earlier work. That they did; the airy Still Living brings their gently unfurling, sunlit melodies and towering blasts of harmony into sharp focus. Still Living's cross-section of Byrdsian folk-psych, loose-limbed 80s indie rock, and fizzy Beach Boys-derived harmonies in the nouveau Grizzly Bear/Fleet Foxes mold finds the quietly confident Ganglians nimbly folding in one sliver of melody after another until their songs just glimmer. With an album's worth of agile tunes at their disposal and Dirty Projectors associate Robby Moncrieff behind the boards, Still Living slips by with an elegant ease that seemed beyond them even on their two fine 2009 efforts.

For all its musical poise, Still Living stumbles right out of the gate and-- vocally, anyway-- occasionally struggles to regain its footing. "This is a sad sad song for all you sad sad people," Ryan Grubbs lets go at the album's onset, and this overeager announcement proves memorable in all the ways they didn't intend. What follows is, thankfully, a tad subtler, as Grubbs' lyrics recede more often than they pop, often buried in a sea of enunciation-divebombing harmony. Ganglians aren't alone in their fondness for the swelling, Beach Boys-derived vocal pileup, as filtered through the aforementioned animal bands. They're fine enough singers, but after a while, Still Living's reliance on ornate vocal kumbayas seem to weigh down its willowy music. The chorus of "whoah-oh-ohs" that sets off "Jungle" is close kin to Fleet Foxes' "Ragged Wood", and "Evil Weave" isn't the only number that breaks into a round; lovely stuff, but brought out this frequently, the distinctions between songs-- and, occasionally, syllables-- begin to blur

But if you can accuse Ganglians of anything after Still Living's opening salvo, it's drowning in their own loveliness; not the worst problem to have, really. Though they may nick liberally from fairly familiar sources-- the clear-eyed but slightly sneaky melodies of the Feelies, R.E.M., and Galaxie 500, ornate symphonic-pop vocalisms of past and present greats, and an indie-popper's low-key mentality-- their crosshatching of influences has enough finesse to make easy comparisons seem beside the point. Ornate but never ostentatious, Moncrieff's production brings clarity and fluidity to the proceedings; even the occasional overreach does better on coherence than their earlier, more scattershot stuff. Even Still Living's wealth of straight-up guitar-pop isn't quite so straight-up after a handful of listens, the bends in the road ahead becoming clear as day after a few passes. Though they could still stand to pull back on the vocal fanfares, brushing away some of the gunk that mottled up their earlier records and doubling down on melody each open up new avenues in their sound, and Still Living finds Ganglians delivering on their early promise while stepping confidently toward whatever's

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