Still Living (Lefse/Souterrain Transmissions)
“Drop the Act,” the opening singalong from Ganglians’ sophomore album, is misleadingly slight. The hook is there, encrusted in a stream of cheap reverb and punk naivety, but the mix is lukewarm. An acoustic guitar strums earnestly, but all you hear is string noise. Drums bang along in a half-drunk stumble, but its “aw-shucks” charm wears off in real time.
It’s a dorky, unremarkable misstep on a disc of otherwise life-affirming summer-psych goodness. Stepping up from 2009’s Monster Head Room, Ganglians get maximum bang for their frequently minimal buck out of producer Robby Moncrieff, who helped out on Dirty Projectors’ weird, wild godsend Bitte Orca. There’s nothing too adventurous on display in any of these 12 tracks—mainly a lot of surf guitar, basic beats, and off-kilter hooks that gnaw away at your brain. “That’s What I Want,” with its cascading falsetto hooks, is actually really gorgeous, somehow way more than the sum of its modest parts. The masterful “Evil Weave” wrangles more sun-drenched euphoria with two fist-pumped power chords than some bands manage in their entire career. There are some surprisingly deft flourishes: the Mario Bros. synths that decorate the jungle music-hall psychedelics of “Sleep,” the beefy bass gurgle in “Things to Know,” the stuttering, half-there snare surging through “The Toad.”
At 56 minutes, Still Living lives on a little longer than it needs to. Cutting a little dead weight (the pleasant-and-nothing-more ballad “California Cousins” or the riffy, Ramones-ish “Faster”) would have been wise. On the crawling, space-guitar epic “Bradley,” Ryan Grubb’s mournful vocal pleas sound like an emotional tribute to a fallen friend. The message is lost forever underneath all that echo, but with sounds this sticky sweet, who needs words anyway?