All band names are stupid, but some do reveal or at least project onto the music a sense of meaning that lends it a bit more mystery. Named for a dissociative disorder that often presented in prisoners awaiting trial, Ganser are an intriguing bunch at the artier end of the post-punk spectrum. And, with that semi-introduction and with all its implied metaphors in mind, their second album Just Look At That Sky is everything that you might expect.
The Chicago-based four-piece is diverse in terms of age, background and influences and this is a realised strength when it comes to their ability to extract new ideas out of a sub-genre that has been steadily mined of all its avant garde appeal. Like contemporaries Russian Baths there is a fresh gloom to Ganser that is more than just a reduction of ingredients from either the first wave of post-punk artists (or other strobe-lit leather clad comebacks spurred on by Interpol). As the urgency of opening track ‘Lucky’ immediately demonstrates, this band sounds more like four core elements colliding together, blasting out a sine wave of intermittent chaos and harmony. There’s the self-named “two-headed monster” of Nadia Garofalo (keyboards/vocals) and Alicia Gaines (bass/vocals) sharing and taking lead turns on vocals, the inventive guitar (or is it a circular saw?) acrobatics of Charlie Landsman and his percussionist sparring partner, Brian Cundiff. For the most part these four key parts fit together brilliantly, only occasionally sloping off into their own, separate murky corners.
Co-produced with Electrelane‘s Mia Clarke, Just Look At That Sky has many stand-outs, some revealing themselves gradually over the course of several listens. The singles off this album demand an immediate audience. ‘Projector’ is up-front, clawing wildly with frantic riffs and Garofalo’s simmering vocal menace, while ‘Emergency Equipment & Exits’ charts a subtler course through social anxiety with Gaines’ contrasting, more introspective voice. ‘Bad Form’ starts off with nods to Wire or Lydia Lunch, guitars cutting in and out in agitated, disoriented rhythms before Ganser converge into a relentless tailspin of a climax.
It takes a little longer for the black ink of the other tracks to get under the skin. ‘Self Service’ centres around a simple, canvas-slashing guitar line while Garofalo paints a portrait of a self-obsessed society in huge red white and blue strokes: “Back to the start / The line isn’t drawn / Flags have folded / And they’ve all moved on”. Elsewhere, shades of CBGB and death disco flicker over ‘Told You So’, a surprising jazz-psyche mash with a dash of Kim Gordon/Sonic Youth thrown in. ‘Shadowcasting’ takes us again through Gaines’ labyrinthine mind, circling, getting lost in repeating patterns and negative self-talk, leading us further into the abyss. Some distracting jazz noodling and spoken word provided by Sean Gundersen (who also appears on the psychotropic video for ‘Lucky’) makes instrumental ‘[NO YES]’ an interesting, if a little long, segue to album closer ‘Bags For Life’. Imagining the timeline feeds and Instagram live broadcasts of the apocalypse, ‘Bags For Life’ ends with a blaze of horns and a rolling, ominous bassline pacing out its last disillusioned breaths: “It was all supposed to be more beautiful / Far more romantic / And gentle still / I’ll be seeing you… I’ll be seeing you”.
Just Look At That Sky is a must-listen for anyone even vaguely stirred by the morbid, creative buzz of post-punk. While the world online loses its mind, plagued by a pathogenic narcissism, searching for something or someone to blame, Ganser might not offer any kind of relief. But what they do have to give is honest, insightful and full of fire.
‘Just Look At That Sky’ is released on 31st July, on Felte.