On their richly dynamic new album Just Look At That Sky, the Chicago noise rock group Ganser have captured a deeply stirring portrait of creeping malaise. The songs feel modern, yet not overly tied to a particular moment in time. The free-flowing melodies that course through the gentle abrasion of the record feel like they’ve encapsulated a timeless musical portrait of facing a void of uncertainty and feeling, perhaps, like there’s not much left to do besides pick up a guitar or sit behind a drum set. After all — just look at that sky!
The Core of Just Look At That Sky
The record’s tone may feel a bit nihilistic at times, but not in a necessarily depressive way. The lyrics and frequently melancholic, contemplative melodies feel like they lean more towards catharsis. “I don’t know that there were any particular ideas sonically,” guitarist Charlie Landsman explains, discussing the new record. “I think we just wanted the record to be a bit bigger? A little more dense harmonically. We had the theme of the record pretty early on so I think we just wanted to make sure that the songs were enforcing the feeling and the mood in the narrative. That was kind of how we started the songs — thinking about the theme.”
That theme comes into particular focus at moments like the closing segment of “Emergency Equipment And Exits,” when vocalist/ bassist Alicia Gaines contemplatively repeats the refrain: “It’s a long way down.” Nadia Garofalo, who performs on the keyboard and shares vocal duties with Gaines, observes: “Lyrically, we have always sort of kept to an introspective theme, speaking from our experiences as well as our observations. With Just Look At That Sky, we went a little darker while still keeping a sense of humor about it. Of course the time and place we are in influences us, but this album was written about a year ago and the songs have only gotten more relevant as time has gone on.”
Indeed — malaise seems to have set in rather widely. Many societal fibers have abruptly evaporated amidst strain from crises like COVID-19. We’ve all experienced it, it seems — few, if any, could claim immunity from the rampant disconnect from emotional stability that’s been unfolding lately. Just Look At That Sky seems to capture the emotional experience of moments like the present.
Developing an Imprint
Besides Landsman, Gaines, and Garofalo, the band also features drummer Brian Cundiff. Ganser’s discography stretches back to a 2015 two-song EP, and in the time since, they’ve released other short collections of songs and a 2018 LP called Odd Talk. “I think it’s just a combination of us all liking different music but having the same goal,” Landsman observes, discussing the group’s rather unique sonic imprint. “There has been a lot of trial and error I feel, but basically we haven’t changed much in how we approach a song. Maybe we are more ambitious nowadays but we got here essentially through a combination of a million different influences.”
Just Look At That Sky progresses from the jumpy, angular riffing of album opener “Lucky,” through the heavy bassline-driven, start-and-stop stagger of “Projector,” to the bright rhythmic tumbles of “Emergency Equipment And Exits.” Some of the more tense moments feel like musical encapsulations of those moments when knots feel like they’re growing and growing in the pit of one’s stomach. Ganser also deal with a bit more subdued sonic territory — the slower vibe on “Shadowcasting,” for instance, makes the record feel a bit like malaise-driven jazz rock, as if the band are performing in a smoky club that’s somewhere well off the beaten path. That feeling comes to the forefront on album closer “Bags For Life,” which includes guest performances on a trumpet and trombone.
“It’s the Venn diagram of our combined personal interests and influences and our aversion to limiting ourselves within a specific genre,” Garofalo observes, discussing the band’s sound.
As for Just Look At That Sky in particular, Landsman explains that the group dialed into the intersection of their interests and songwriting. “I think we did a lot of work figuring out what songs we like best that we write. And it seems that once we decide on a theme our songs just kind of naturally get there somehow — which is astounding but as far as I can tell that’s all we need,” he shares.
The creative cohesion feels rather evident on the band’s latest record. Although the melodies are sprawling and the songs feel intricate, there’s always the guiding force of Ganser’s contemplative paradigm.
“We tend to start with a concept or an idea and go from there in terms of subject matter,” Garofalo shares. “Musically we evolve over time and become better writers together so we always want to encourage that growth in each other.”
Over the years, Ganser has played shows with luminary noise rockers like Daughters, Oh Sees, and Algiers. “For us it’s onward and upward,” Garofalo shares. “We always want to be striving for better music and broader reach. We would love to play overseas in the future when it’s safe to do so. As for the community in general, I would love to see more inclusivity, to not be seen as an anomaly just for showing up as we are — women, black women, queers.”
“I can prattle on about what I think we’ve highlighted or done a good job of communicating but I only helped make the thing,” Landsman adds, discussing the impact. “I will never be able to listen to the record for the first time. So once it hits peoples brains I have no idea what the record is going to come across as. All I hope is that it’s substantial to them in some way or challenges them in some way. That’s pretty much the best I can do in terms of hoping.”
The album is available via Felte Records.