It’s hard to take a band seriously when they name themselves after their favourite Pokémon (with a slight spelling change to avoid copyright issues, that is). Add to that the fact that it isn’t even Pikachu – come on guys, EVERYONE’S favourite Pokémon is Pikachu – and your second eyebrow is suddenly reaching the same height as the first. But North London quartet Gengahr have done exactly that, after their initial guise of RES attracted some unwanted legal attention from a New York rapper of the same name – no, you probably haven’t heard of him either, but that’s beside the point.
Three of the lads have been together from a young age; the final piece of the jigsaw arrived in the shape of guitarist John Victor, a dynamic axe wielder that gives them an impressive edge over their peers. There is, however, a major ingredient that will probably determine if you’re going to attempt to add this Pokémon to your music Pokédex or battle on in search of something different, and that is frontman Felix Bushe’s falsetto vocal. It’ll possibly be the most distinct lead vocal you’ve heard in aeons, and the lack of space in which to manoeuvre, being such a concise range, could well prove decisive.
A number of prominent tours with the likes of Alt-J and fellow North Londoners Wolf Alice (with whom they share management) have already brought the band to a wider audience, as have festival appearances including last year’s Glastonbury event, and they’re heading back there this summer. Several record shops have also hosted the band for mini gigs. Main influences name-checked by the quartet include Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tame Impala and widely acknowledged favourite Fugazi, the band recently covering I’m So Tired, although you won’t find that here.
Fill My Gums With Blood was an early pre-album release, and the vampire love story (although the band have since declared – rather tongue-in-cheek – that it’s also partly referencing Uruguay’s favourite footballing gnasher Luis Suarez) gives a fairly accurate indication of the album as a whole. There’s a clear ‘90s feel on show thoughout its chilled out, jaunty carefree construction but it’s not a game changer. Another early release, Heroine, however, is rather special: a similarly summery vibe drives the song through its early stages before it lifts off in dramatic style, with brilliant guitaring drawing obvious comparisons to Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood before the Oxford A-listers turned experimental. First official single Powder is even better, mysterious, psychedelic verses develop into a full-on assault for an excellent chorus, the scratchy contrast with Bushe’s vocals creating something uniquely satisfying.
Album opener Dizzy Ghosts is another strong effort, beginning softly until the peace is shattered with bursts of fuzzy guitar and clashing cymbals, its loud/quiet structure defining much of the song to great effect whilst She’s A Witch marks an intriguing return to the cool, laid back scenario. Placed in the centre of the album, the instrumental Dark Star does little other than provide a break from Bushe’s vocals but it appears to rejuvenate proceedings with the following song Embers stealing the album: faster percussion and distorted guitar flecks provide a thoroughly rewarding experience for arguably the band’s best moment to date. The cacophonous instrumentation within Lonely As A Shark also thrills but there are a number of occasions when things don’t quite lift off in the same way, with unexciting numbers like Bathed In Light and album closer Trampoline bringing little to the party.
As debuts go, it’s not on the same level as their mates Wolf Alice, but it is a compelling listen and a worthy addition to any burgeoning music library. If Bushe’s voice isn’t particularly your thing, do your best to persist; over the course of an album, the lack of vocal variety can occasionally grate but when coupled with the band’s most captivating instrumental passages it soars like the best trained Staraptor or finely tuned Aerodactyl.