Still Living, the third album from Sacramento outfit Ganglians, finds the group trading in some of the adventurous weirdness of their two 2009 albums for sunny Brian Wilson vibes. Falsetto harmonies abound and every tune is slathered with reverb. At the tail end of summer, it’s an album that perhaps attempts to bottle all of the sundrenched bedroom pop sounds that have dominated indie rock for the last year or so.
But, Still Living – which spans nearly an hour and feels infinitely longer – is a difficult record to make friends with. On first listen, there’s very little to differentiate one song from another; the arrangements here are uncharacteristically straightforward, and the tones and colours are unwaveringly similar. This is not necessarily a terrible thing. Ganglians establish the album’s sound from the outset with opener Drop The Act, before which front man Bryan Grubbs announces, “This is a sad, sad song for all you sad, sad people.” Despite a few twists, there really aren’t any surprises on the album. It’s all pretty good, but it’s all the same.
There’s a jangly, loose feel to the songs on Still Living, and plenty of thick harmonies that call up easy comparisons to Fleet Foxes, though Ganglians aren’t nearly as ethereally aloof. It’s modern surf rock with a sad streak; there’s nothing wrong with it at all, but there’s nothing there to make Still Living stick, and nothing to set Ganglians apart from any of the other Waaves and Best Coast sound-alikes.
At one point in Things To Know (which sounds a bit like a half-baked Genesis demo), Grubbs casually says, “I’m just gonna riff around now,” before launching into a short, lazy bout of impromptu scatting. The album as a whole could benefit from this sort of impromptu attitude. Instead, it all feels a bit cold and calculated, as if its lo-fi sensibilities (mixed quite nicely, if monotonously, by Robby Mancrieff, the man behind The Dirty Projectors’ excellent Bitte Orca) are all an ill-advised facade.
The finest (and most memorable) tracks on Still Living come at the end. Faster lives up to its name, unleashing heavier guitars and machine-gun drums and finally breaking the album out of its loping mid-tempo rut. Similarly, My House is a quick, angular tune with stutter-stop vocals and fluid bass.
It almost feels that Ganglians have taken a turn in an unnatural direction, as if their musical ability is unnecessarily restrained to fit some imagined archetype. One listen to the soaring vocal interplay on the album’s halfway point, Bradley, reveals the kind of lovely nuance these guys are capable of. Still Living is an unobjectionable album, and any of its songs, taken individually, are certainly a fine soundtrack to the final lazy days of summer. As a whole, though, Still Living barely limps along, only occasionally revealing flashes of semi-greatness, and it ultimately falls victim to its own aesthetics.