Admittedly, Ganglians’ third LP begins with a garish thud. An a cappella declaration that promptly begins the album with, “This is a sad, sad song for all you sad, sad people” is a tactic few bands could adequately execute with any semblance of grace. Luckily, however, this stain is quickly scoured with the first sounds of Ryan Grubbs’ guitar as Ganglians revert back to what they do best.
Almost immediately, it becomes clear that the guitar work will be the album’s primary draw. Ganglians are right in bringing it to the foreground of production, for it is ultimately the band’s greatest asset. Opulent and harmonious, the guitar drives Still Living, emitting a crisp euphoria and a stable sense of harmony. While the rhythm section coalesces flawlessly with the guitar sound, Grubbs’ vocal delivery sometimes feels disjointed from the rest of the composition. Bombastic at times (“Drop the Act’), the overenthusiastic vocals can, at times, seem sequestered from the overall tone and pace. When Grubbs does opt to alter his delivery within a song and change pitch, the results are strikingly positive, as in album highlights “Sleep” and “Jungle.” His passionate vigor, therefore, can be his most endearing trait and his own worst enemy.
The same can said for the band’s inclination for experimentation on their third proper release. With such skilled guitar and rhythm sections, Ganglians are able to aptly wander through a variety of different rock subgenres ranging from post-punk to psychedelic. In many cases this varied approach, though lacking in cohesion, spawns aesthetically pleasing rock numbers that demonstrate the immense talent of the band. Ganglians even try their hand at funk on “Things to Know,” and surprisingly come through unscathed. Their experimentation reaches its peak with the deliciously psychedelic “Toad,” complete with a trippy synthesizer and a ‘60s-inspired groove. Other highlights can be seen in the wizened, romping “Evil Weave” and the slow, bluesy stomp of “Bradley,” whose reverb and languid atmospherics are eerily reminiscent of early My Morning Jacket. This experimental approach fails when the songs become too elongated, such as the almost six-minute folk rock ballad “California Cousins.” Though the sound and premise may be pleasant enough, its running time overstays its welcome a bit and produces a rambling effect. Like the vocals, the Ganglians’ experimentation is responsible for generating both the album’s bright spots and miscues.
As with almost every new, developing band, Ganglians are still on the journey to find and affirm their signature identity and sound. Still Living is undoubtedly a clear step in the right direction for this Sacramento trio displaying exponential growth while maintaining their penchant for infectious rock n’ roll grooves. Until they solidify their sound, their intriguing experimentation provides an extremely appealing listen in the meantime.