Gengahr - Where Wildness Grows
by Ed Hambly
Gengahr are perhaps the only London-grown indie rock quartet taking their name from Generation 1 Ghost/Poison-type Pokémon (with that name slightly adjusted for legal reasons). However, they are one of the dreamiest bands out there - slice their songs like a lovely bit of dream cake and you’ll see this dreaminess extending top to bottom, with haunting falsetto weaving between distorted rhythm guitar and gorgeously reverby lead lines, all above a springy, locked in rhythm section that’s unafraid of crushing dynamism when they all want to get a bit more intense. Moreover, they also just look like really nice boys. Where Wildness Grows is the follow up to the band’s 2014 debut, A Dream Outside, and stands as an encouraging sign of the band’s continuing musical growth.
Previously held by Heroine from their previous effort, third track Is This How You Love? will henceforth receive the title of Most Gengahr Gengahr Song™, and will hold it into a more Gengahr Gengahr song is released. Their core elements are all playing nicely with each other here: a delightfully playful intro riff that retreats into ambience in the verses to give some space to Felix Bushe’s delicate vocals? Tick. Watertight, bouncy rhythm section? Tick. All these elements underlined in bold at the end of the track with a touch of distortion to finish off cathartically? Tick. It’s the new best example of what the band does that makes them stand above the rest. Blind Truth is also worth mentioning. Here, Bushe croons: “the fucked up shit that I do is just to make you notice” and “the fucked up shit that I say is just to make you love me”. When you’ve got a frowny riff atop fuzzy rhythm chords and a mid tempo rhythm section on the table, a man swearing in his head voice is the missing piece. It’s not something we’ve heard from Gengahr before, so its a surprise; yet a welcome one nonetheless, as it aptly demonstrates maturation. As an added bonus, the bridge of this song with its grinding lead flourishes would probably function excellently as soundtrack for a nasty boss battle - one where their health regenerates at every stage until you end up swearing in frustration as freely as Felix.
Sophomore albums are tricky. They’re a nice opportunity to develop your sound, using the first album as a springboard. Take too many risks and you could alienate fans that might have been expecting more continuity. Play it safe, however, and you risk falling into a “it worked last time, lets do more of it” holding pattern - of the sort that Sticky Fingers slipped into at some point in 2014, and that Mumford and Sons only broke out of by crashing the plane into the tarmac with flabby wet-rock failure Wilder Mind. For all of its merits, progression from its predecessor is not immediately obvious in Where Wildness Grows. That isn’t to say there’s no development in their sound, because there is - Bushe explores his lower register on Carrion and Pull Over (Now), and there’s also a number of welI integrated and nicely ambient instrumental flourishes throughout (particularly on Is Burning Air, I’ll Be Waiting and Left In Space) which, in tandem with increased rhythm and lead distortion, builds momentum and adds some catharsis as the album heads to its close. As a result, the record as a whole feels heavier and wilder, which is neat given its title, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that it could be something more given the band’s obvious potential. But maybe I’m being a bit unfair expecting a perfect revolution in sound from album to album - the songs are still well-written, well-constructed and fantastically well-produced. I believe it was Superhans who decreed that “that will probably become clear later, like the French Revolution”, nicely summarising that revolutions are best viewed in hindsight. Perhaps its quite hard to clearly identify how this album has developed from its predecessor because we don’t yet know where the band are going. I hope it’s somewhere nice.
The closing track, Whole Again, opens with a series of brash, stately chords that rather nicely pays homage to some of the better examples of 90s guitar rock (think The Bends). Here, Bushe details the pressures of touring incessantly, hoping to feel whole again when he returns home but never feeling so for long because he’ll have to leave again. Its a solemn reminder of how, in this world of slim streaming receipts and fewer outright purchases (and despite how ‘music stardom’ might be portrayed outside the industry) the reality for smallish bands like Gengahr is one of near-endless touring. Where Wildness Grows, to a certain extent, speaks to a sense of dislocation and detachment, but packages it with the dreamy, hazy Gengahr seal that still remains exceptionally fresh and original. We should cherish our smallish bands, and Gengahr have again proven themselves to be worth cherishing.