The Ganglians' debut album, 'Monster Head Room,' is watered-down alt-pop that's all about the sweetly harmonised vocals and the atmosphere.
'Voodoo' and 'Valient Brave,' both feature a spine-tingler of an introduction where the main vocals are supported by a choir's worth of synchronised backing vocals. Unfortunately, both run into difficulties when Ganglians try to move from the wispy introduction, into the weightier second half.
The reverential main vocal of 'Voodoo,' and its full supporting cast of "ahhhhh"s and "ooooohs" form a thrumming slow-burner of an intro that culminates in a drone of organ-like synths, in keeping with the church-like atmospherics. However, 'Voodoo' then throws a complete curve ball and snaps into a funked-up pop-song where the same hooky synth is repeated over and over again until it'll drive you mad, and have you hitting the 'skip' button.
The intro to 'Valient Brave' conforms to the same formula as 'Voodoo,' but with a darker slant, as ghoulish backing vocals perfectly mirror the dispirited drone of the main vocal. Ganglians make less of a hash of that tricky, mid-song transition this time around. Although they lose 90% of that carefully-accumulated atmosphere, they remain true to the mood of the opening half: the loose, winding guitar line snaking through the crunching second instalment, isn't completely removed from the first half's glum vibe.
If 'Valiant Brave' handles the transition more successfully than 'Voodoo,' then 'The Void' takes another small step in the right direction. Firstly, this is a very creepy song. Everytime the song title crops up, 'The Void' dissolves into a hollow moan that's swampy with echoey, other worldly sound effects that are designed to give you goosebumps. But it isn't just these sudden pits where echoes reign supreme: good luck defining the edges of this track, as its waves of haunting vocals and gossamer sound effects seem to echo forever. And then, we reach the awkward second half and Ganglians do something a little different. Instead of getting their cynical, pop-infused groove on ('Voodoo') or livening things up, for the sake of livening things up, ('Valient Brave') they pitch 'The Void' into a frightening pit of wailing voices. It feels contrived, and it's a poor fit for the song's otherwise understated chills and thrills but, once again, it's a step in the right direction.
Ganglians finally get the second half spot-on with '100 Years.' The intro of twanging guitars and squeaking chords, gradually slides into a soup of distortion, underpinned by a rock 'n roll crunch. It's a vaguely brooding slow-burner, and the only occasion where Ganglians successfully take us from wispy introduction, to fully-formed song. Although '100 Years' flirts briefly with a more rock-orientated sound, it isn't until 'Blood On The Sand' that Ganglians embrace their wild(er), rock 'n roll side. A thick, scuzzy bassline throbs away in the background, while the multi-faceted vocals leap and dart between this bass slug. 'Blood On The Sand' brings nothing new to the table aside from a great bassline, but it still manages to stand out. Proof of how far a good bassline can take you.
Ganglians push their vocals to the absolute limit on 'Make It Up.' Musically, it's very simple, as Ganglians restrict themselves to a single thread of glistening guitar and a bit of acoustic strumming, but the long, flat, scuzzed-up main vocal is a perfect example of all the strange and wonderful things you can do with an "ooooooh-whooooo-oooooooh" and a bit of imagination. Worth a listen for the bizarre, outside-of-the-box main vocal alone.
Ganglians bring the taste of summer to their debut, with first single 'Candy Girl,' 'Cryin' Smoke' and 'Lost Words.' The latter is so summery, it even has a bird tweeting away in the background. Delivered to a cheerful, handclap-friendly beat, 'Lost Words' could be dismissed as just another fun, airy bit of alt-pop, if it wasn't for all the whispering that's going on in 'Lost Words' dark corners. 'Lost Words,' with its bird song and its disembodied voices, perfectly navigates the no-man's land between sweet and childish, and downright eerie. 'Candy Girl' follows suit. It may come with a boatload of nursery-rhyme sound effects and a clunking, xylophone rhythm, but it is also shrounded in echoes. A grower, and more than a little unsettling.
The charismatic, summery vibe is what saves 'Cryin' Smoke' from becoming mind-numbingly boring. The bouding acoustic guitar may be upbeat, but there's only so many times you can listen to the same chord. The wisp of melt-in-the-mouth alt-pop vocals that sigh alongside that mindlessly repetitive strumming, is what keeps 'Cryin' Smoke' interesting. Just.
'Try To Understand' is another song with a spring in its step. Thankfully, this one is more varied. The twangy chords are mirrored by the main vocals, which lunge and recoil throughout the whole of this elastic track. And, with a full supporting cast of backing vocals contorting into all manner of bizarre shapes, 'Try To Understand' is far more likely to hold your interest, than the same chord being struck over and over again, ala 'Cryin' Smoke.'
'To June' and 'Modern African Queen' are mood-music, and an acquired taste. 'To June,' sounds like it's been lifted straight off a relaxation CD. Over the soft hiss of insects, the occasional hoot of an owl and croak of a frog, Ganglians layer their swooning, sweetly harmonised vocals. Possibly one of the most soothing tracks you'll ever hear outside of a 'Sounds of the Rainforest' CD. Meanwhile, 'Modern African Queen,' is drearily, starkly beautiful. With a bit of guitar shuffling apologetically away in the background and a limp, dispirited air hanging heavily around it, this is a song that'll get lost in the background but, if you're in the mood for a bit of quiet contemplation, then this is the perfect accompaniment.
'Monster Head Room' boasts jaw-dropping harmonising. It's basically thirteen different ways to sing "whoooo" and "oooooh." Musically, Ganglians restrict themselves to atmospheric alt-pop with a penchant for echoes. It would be coma-inducing, if it wasn't for the vocals, which are always thought-provoking, and sound quite unlike anything else. This is music that has no bite, no hooks, and pretty much no chance of catching the fickle attention of the masses. But, if you like to sit quietly and appreciate crisp, thin layers of meticulously-constructed, mood-drenched alt-pop, then this is the album for you. Plus, the vocals are second to none.