Written in music lore is the famed ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’. At Tin Pan Alley, New York, music publishers would play their latest tracks to the doormen who worked at the publishing houses; if the doorman could whistle back the melody of the song played to them, the publishing house would release said record.
When applying this test to Gengahr’s Where Wildness Grows you’d have approximately a one-song-album. Otherwise known as a Reviewer’s Reverie.
But, before we delve further into the intricacies of the album, let’s see how it weighs up. At 48 minutes long and comprising of 12 tracks, the structure is fairly ordinary; nay, approachable. As such, let us approach.
The record begins with ‘Before Sunrise’, the fabled track to pass the Whistle Test. Gengahr lead singer Felix Bushe sounds like Future Islands’ Samuel T Herring over a backing track seemingly created for the sole purpose of a beach party – it’s catchy and everything is good in the world. Spring has finally arrived.
But, as the record continues, you find yourself yearning for the winter again. The next few songs, ‘Mallory’, ‘Is this How You Love’ and ‘I’ll be Waiting’ are all of the same ilk as ‘Before Sunrise’, but not as catchy. It feels like an Alvvays/Vaccines/Foals mashup, sculpted into a Tama Impala single. The sound Gengahr makes is pleasing, but stagnant and indistinguishable.
The record’s titular track, ‘Where Wildness Grows’, does well to somewhat alleviate this feeling; there’s good work by percussionist Danny Ward on the off-beat, and it’s not hard to envisage the song as a soundtrack to many a summer festival.
Following track, ‘Blind Truth’, sees Bushe sound like Thom Yorke if Thom Yorke was disillusioned with being disillusioned. Even as Bushe sings that “the fucked up things that I say, are supposed to make you want me”, I can’t help but get the feeling that he is offering me a beer and requesting that we throw a Frisbee around together on the beach. Maybe this is seriously clever counterpoint, more likely it is attributable to the lack of substance that plagues the album generally.
‘Carrion’, ‘Burning Air’ and ‘Left in Space’ continue in the same style; perhaps this is best summed up by Bushe in ‘Left in Space’ when he presciently remarks, “Always the same out here”. The album finishes with ‘Whole Again’, which surprises the listener with an unusually heavy opening.
What is noticeable throughout is a haziness. This is most apparent on ‘Pull Over (Now)’ and ‘Rising Tides’. Not too dissimilar to how The War On Drugs or Alvvays build atmosphere within an album using white noise, these two tracks utilise guitar feedback to enhance a sense of summer revelry.
If I have been unduly harsh on Where Wildness Grows it is only because I feel that Gengahr are a good band that could be better. The album is solid; the record is well put together, hell, the chemistry between band members is palpable. However, to reach new, larger audiences, or to create their own distinct following, Gengahr need to develop some variety to their sound. They’ve got the barbecue-on-the-beach style down; they need to get perhaps more of a MacDonald’s-in-Mansfield feel to reach that next level.