Album Review: Gengahr – A Dream Outside

By on Monday, 15th June 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Gengahr album coverIs introverted psych pop from the late ’80s back? Possibly so, if you have a listen to the debut album from London’s Gengahr. The first couple of months of 2015 started their year off with a bang: among other things that cemented their buzzy status home in the UK, they had a coveted support slot with alt-J for their winter 2015 European tour, and they were one of six acts chosen for the BBC Introducing lineup Wednesday at the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30 at SXSW 2015, compered by BBC 6 Music presenter Steve Lamacq. What very good and quick stepping up from a band who in 2014 was offering up double A-sided single ‘Powder’/’Bathed in Light’, which was snapped up for airplay by Radio 1’s Huw Stephens, 6 Music and XFM and garnering attention from the Guardian. So to say that the industry was keen on seeing what they would do on their first full-length outing for Transgressive Records is a gross understatement.

Most recent single ‘Heroine’, currently making the rounds on radio, is a clear standout of the album. The extremely catchy chorus, memorable guitar hooks and freewheeling instrumental bridge are emphatically obvious, detracting from lead singer Felix Bushe’s falsetto vocals, which tend to run to the whiny side of things throughout this whole album. This isn’t a terrible failing for their style of music: think Temples, but with far poppier songs, and you sense that a sweeter-sounding voice actually makes sense. The album ends with ‘Trampoline’, which musically sounds so sugary sweet, one’s likely to go into insulin shock upon listening to it. But Gengahr has always been a band who have gone for the creepier side of things.

It’s just a question if you can cope with a whole album of this. ‘She’s a Witch’, the title track of their debut EP, sounds like it should be an acerbic description of a woman who’s done a man wrong but instead you get “Maybe she’ll sink / Maybe she’ll fly / I’ve got a witch that cries all the time”. Huh? I’m confused. Is “she’s a witch” a euphemism? Would it make more sense if I was stoned? Hey, this is all beginning to sound a lot like an MGMT album…

Going back to the aforementioned single ‘Powder’, the rock instrumentation is restrained until the second minute, when the band show off their fine guitar pop songwriting skills. But there’s that falsetto again… You start to wonder how different the band would sound and come across if Bushe had an edgier, growly tone to his voice to match the sound musicianship. I know I did. A similar question comes up with ‘Where I Lie’: with such confident, squealing guitars, the falsetto feels out of place. If they wanted to, they could clearly rock out. But everything is so tightly held back on this album. Is the measured restraint just right, or should the reins have been loosened a little?

Contrast this with the track immediately after – the highly enjoyable, mostly instrumental ‘Dark Star’ – in which the vocals are reduced to faint whispers and the guitars and drums are front and centre. Perhaps this a group who will be most comfortable looking away from festival audiences this summer, off in their own world as they jam away? Hmm…

6/10

‘A Dream Outside’, the debut album from Gengahr, is out today on Transgressive Records.

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