ALBUM OF THE MONTH - Jan. 2020: Gengahr - Sanctuary
Your favourite band in the world that's named after a Pokémon.
Gengahr's third full-length record Sanctuary is totally unmissable. Just edging Bombay Bicycle Club's recent release Everything Else Has Gone Wrong to our pick for album of the month, this newest entry from the Hackney shoegazers is mature, dark and developed - very much toying with a new sound, but still comfortably tethered to previous albums through Felix Bushe's soft falsetto vocals.
Thoughout the record, Gengahr often decide to shed their reliance on expensive guitar effects and pedals in favour of an exploration into a more electronic inspired sound. Hints of this new artistic direction peek through during opener 'Everything & More', as though the tune itself wouldn't have felt out of place on previous LP Where Wildness Grows (2018) the *tone* of this record sounds so much greater than earlier efforts. This can be attributed largely to the role of Bombay Bicycle Club's very own frontman Jack Steadman in the production of Sanctuary, whose work on this album (in my opinion) has managed to exceed his own LP released earlier in January. Indeed, I am sure I am not paranoid in placing the singer's distinctive voice in the backing vocals of this opening track. If true, this is truly a welcome addition to an album that has so clearly benefited from the talents of Steadman off the back of his work with Bombay Bicycle Club and side-project Mr Jukes.
'Atlas Please' comes next, a single first released all the way back in September of 2018, just following the release of their previous album. It's short, sweet and again serves as an exceptional bridge between Gengahr's last album and the distinct new artistic direction found in third track 'Heavenly Maybe'. Hugh Schulte is one of the most impressive bassists currently doing it in the UK indie scene, and his performance on 'Heavenly Maybe' proves instrumental (lol) to the furnishing of this track as an incredible synthesis of modern indie rock, electronic and funk.
'Never A Low' is similarly excellent. Gengahr now are increasingly experimental with the flavours of electronic sounds. In fact, lead guitarist John Victor is nowhere to be found in any meaningful way as the band tries playing without their now-signature use of ludicrously expensive guitar pedals. This results in an excellent tune, and following the interluding soundscape of 'Fantasy' the first half of the record is a quite entirely brilliant piece of work.
The quality doesn't let up, as 'You're No Fun' kicks into gear. Drummer Danny Ward keeps up with the song's blistering tempo with as strong a grip as his goalkeeping namesake. Steadman's quality as an excellent producer shines through with a stupidly powerful drop into the final third of the song at [2:40] that *demands* your undivided attention with driving riffs and an erratic octopus of flexibility sat behind the drum kit. 'Soaking In Formula' is similarly satisfying, with singer Bushe deciding to sing with less of a reliance on his trademark high-pitched vocals and into a warm lower register. The way in which he typically sings may be off-putting to some, understandably so, but if you can get on board with his vocal style there is absolutely an excellent album to enjoy here.
'Anime' is the only song on the record that doesn't do it for me. The playful synth stabs are fun enough and though the soft guitar riff that appears in its chorus is a great invention from the band, I feel distinctly like the album loses a little of its momentum going into this weaker tune. Luckily 'Anime' is quickly forgotten with final released single 'Icarus' - despite an initially wobbly vocal sound from Bushe - it returns the album to the driving indie-rock roots of debut A Dream Outside. The stripped back 'Moonlight' is excellent, and a perfect send off to the album. Slightly reminiscent of the work of Minnesota musicians/models Hippo Campus at its start, this song unfurls into something utterly distinct in sound and entirely Gengahr.
The album doesn't overstay its welcome, getting in and out at a 35 minute run time, and this is the perfect size. Felix Bushe sounds more confident, the (more limited) moments in which guitarist John Victor is allowed to have fun are all the more powerful for it, bassist Hugh Schulte is unbelievable and Danny Ward doesn't put a foot wrong. Add that all together with one of the most impressively creative figures at the heart of the UK indie scene and you have a phenomenal album that you should listen to right away.
- 9.0 -
'Everything & More', 'Heavenly Maybe', 'Never A Low'
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation, instead of creating a blog.
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