Electro Group: Ranger (Research Sound Recordings/Pehr, 2017)
It’s been eight years since Historical Contest and nine years since their last full-length Good Technology, so when I say that I’m ecstatic about a new Electro Group full-length album, I am probably understating my emotive glee. This also means that I have high expectations for the album and after multiple listens, I can tell you that I was most certainly not disappointed. Of course, they’ve trickled out some tracks on their Cassingle One in 2015 and teased us with The Rancho – Research Sessions 7” in 2016, but it’s almost time for fans to get their hands on their long-awaited new full-length. For those of you unacquainted with this noise-pop trio, Electro Group is made up of Matt Hull (drums), Tim Jacobson (guitar, vox), and Ian Hernandez (bass).
Ranger bursts out of the speakers with the glorious falsetto of Jacobson lulling the listener into Ranger’s world with “Like Pelicans”. Guitars strum wildly and a slight, trip-hop beat is pounded out on the drums. Hull, in my mind, ought to be considered a legendary drummer and his phrases and choices do not disappoint here. Hernandez fills the spaces with pocket heavy bass work and some choice expressions that accent an impressive composition. The song-writing here is superb, with pop and rock structures intertwined with bliss-pop and shoegaze accents. “Undone” begins with what sounds like slightly out of tune, warbling, off-kilter guitar. The drums and bass sway in the winds of the distorted walls of sound. Jacobson sings a brilliant melody over the structured noise, slipping in and out of falsetto. The meandering sense of the song is reflected in Jacobson’s line “Oh, we don’t belong/oh, we don’t belong”. An angsty, melancholy rebellion permeates “Undone” in all the right ways.
“Mandobo” slows down the tempo and spreads out the tones a bit. There is this wonderful, catchy guitar line that plays over the strumming, fuzzed out guitar. Again, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the combination of Jacobson and Hull is just perfection on the timing side of things. There are no wasted spaces or sounds in the pieces this trio makes and it’s a brilliant testament to their musicianship. “UR1” changes up the feel and has a delayed guitar and sparser drums with subtle bass. There’s a slight fuzz on the guitar and the melodies are ominous. Jacobson’s vocals are slightly recessed in the mix with a touch of floaty reverb. There’s a dreaminess to this track that evokes a more shoegazery side of the band.
“Look Around” begins with energetic guitar and cymbals singing out as they swell in the speakers. Bass is strummed here in between the noisescape and then the trio comes into form, bursting forth with an up-tempo poppy tour de force. High-hat and bass drive the track forward will bright guitar and melodic vocals floating over them. “Unwind” is a slower tempo piece with sparse guitar and vocals that punctuate the band’s playful composition. There are some very inventive and unique guitar tones floating around that are unusually wonderful. They bring a particular flavor that makes “Unwind” stand out from so many others. There is also viola and cello on this track played by Kaitlin Wolfberg and Ken Oak respectively. Both add beautiful touches to an already excellent song.
“Gong” has a synth flavor to it, but I’m guessing that this some of this Jacobson being creative with guitar effects. The song feels introspective, more spacious, and has a quieter dynamic. There is almost a Shins vibe here. Perhaps the Richard Swift style keys and floaty James Merceresque vox are the core of what give me this impression. “We Were Strangers” begins with high tones and moves into full on dreamy guitars over aggressive drums and pensive bass-lines. This is a power-anthem song with longing, stretched out phrasing in the vocals and addictive, driving guitar hooks. “You Never Know” has rickety guitar layers created with fuzz and staccato bass drum and bass. This is a slow-moving song that the listener can easily get lost in with the ethereal vocals Hull’s phrasing choices. The composition lulls one into its embrace, enveloping the listener.
“Monotron” is a bass and drum driven piece, with the bass really setting up a brilliant conversation between the guitar and drums. This is the tenth track on the album and, I must say, every one of them could be singles. When you take the journey through this album, you realize that Electro Group is at the height of their powers and that Ranger was worth the very long wait. “Monotron” is a masterclass in pop/rock composition with all the right touches that only a band like Electro Group could give it. “Monotron” boasts shimmering guitars, bright percussion choices, exquisite pocketed bass-lines, and structural hooks that stick in your brain in all the right ways. “No.1” is ironically the finale to the album. The bass here is fuzzed out and is a prominent presence over driving drums and bright synths (or, again, perhaps this is Jacobson‘s creativeness with guitar). There are changes throughout the song, as fuzz disappears from the bass and becomes deep and driving, then goes back to being all fuzzed-up. Hull beats the toms like a man driven and the overall feel to the song is hopeful and, in a funny way, comforting.
Ranger was a long-time coming and it was well worth the wait. Electro Group has given the world eleven exquisite tracks that both hold up on their own and create a cohesive album as a unit. It’s rare to find a band that can put eleven tracks on an LP and have ever single one of them as strong as the one that came before it. Electro Group shines brighter than ever on Ranger, with Hull, Jacobson, and Hernandez putting on a clinic from note one to the last.
Ranger is out January 27, 2017.
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