Don’t be fooled, for a second. “This is a sad, sad song / For all you sad, sad people,” announces Ganglians’ creative core and lead singer Ryan Grubbs at the outset of the Sacramento-based band’s second LP, Still Living.
The guitars, strummed with sun- rays, and the percussion, sprightly with springtime enthusiasm, tell a different tale. “We don’t want to be sad,” admits Grubbs, minutes later. And it’s certainly hard to feel blue with music like this for company.
But don’t mistake Ganglians for another stateside ensemble playing hollow tunes that come sepia-toned, rippling with sonic nostalgia for a period its makers never lived through. You can keep those lo-fi slacker-rock and chilled-out blogosphere buzz comparisons to yourself, as unlike many a would-be peer group riding the hype wave before washing up on a forgotten shore, Ganglians’ ambition comes through every bit as clearly as their affection for a sweet melody and wistful lyrical turn. That was apparent on their acclaimed debut set Monster Head Room and their collectable Captured Tracks 7” of 2009, ‘Blood on the Sand’ – but Still Living, predominantly produced by Robby Moncrieff (Dirty Projectors, Zach Hill), furthers the vision of Grubbs and company. Says the man himself: “It’s a double-LP for a reason – we wanted to try many different ideas while doing everything in real time, with no metronome and mainly our own instruments. There’s a whole bunch of things tossed in, with various styles going on.”
But, brilliantly, the seams between stylistic shifts aren’t detectable – Ganglians have taken the experimental blueprints of this album’s predecessor and updated (and expanded) their designs. So, moods move from quiet introspection to boisterous merriment, chords stimulating the synapses while the toes can’t keep from twitching. Says Grubbs of the end results: “This is outsider music, but with a pop sensibility that brings everyone in.” He’s right to highlight the non-exclusivity of this fare – it might have been made with envelope-pushing intent, but little on Still Living will leave the listener truly perplexed; unless, of course, they choose to delve deep into the rabbit hole of Grubbs’ inspirations. It’s personal, intimate and romantic, with metaphor preferred over the matter-of-fact musing of some other bands riding loosely comparable rhythms. “It’s pretty honest music,” says Grubbs. “Honestly, everyone feels a great range of emotions, like awkwardness and self-doubt, and not wanting to have to be cool to be cool. And that’s what these songs are like.”
Nail on head, there: Still Living is cool without trying, not conforming to on-trend tropes yet resonating with the kind of timeless charm and compositional purity that will immediately set it atop many a so-called scenester’s personal playlist. But dorks and dweebs are cool, too, and Ganglians embrace all-comers to their party. Lost in the reverb, silhouetted against the static, everyone moves the same way – and this is an album to move a man, tracks like lead single ‘Jungle’ and opener ‘Drop The Act’ effortless in their embracing of the listener and their sing-along tendencies. It’s a refined simplicity, far more considered of craft than its woozy vibe might initially convey. Don’t be fooled, again: it takes some class to sound this carefree, you know.