Gengahr’s ‘Sanctuary’ toes the line between intimacy and inconsistency

 Three stars.

Gengahr are synonymous with the intersection between indie and psychedelic rock; comparable to Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s little brother—dark, romantic, and framed by a sense of youthful angst. While their latest album Sanctuary shows some inconsistency, it has an intimacy that sets it apart from their previous records. 

 Sanctuary follows the sudden death of frontman Felix Bushe’s mother in the wake of the release of their second album Where Wilderness Grows (2018), as well as the event of his wife having to return to Australia due to immigration issues. The album was written in the midst of the couple’s separation, and taps into the personal turmoil Bushe faced during the time. The album captures ‘a world of pain / fractured by fiction and cause’, and shows the band on their journey to create their own sanctuary, despite the ‘wolf outside / in sheepskin hide’ (‘Icarus’). 

 The opener ‘Everything & More’ contains all the elements of dream pop that will appease long-standing Gengahr fans, while also paving the way for the band’s creative experimentation. Success can be found in the husky ‘Never A Low’—one of the album’s best tracks which deals with the difficulty of breaking out of bad habits (‘Given up enough times, so / Outta control, outta control’) and carries a gritty sentimentalism that is reminiscent of early Alt-J (‘You got that weight in your eyes / I miss the wind in the wires’). Other favourites include ‘Heavenly Maybe’—a catchy and hedonistic track, reminiscent of 80’s pop, and ‘You’re No Fun’—an energetic and fun track that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at gigs.

 The hazy ‘Fantasy’ serves as an interlude; its bewitching synths and indistinguishable vocals murmur a spell that leads listeners to a mythical dimension. However, many of the later tracks fail to leave a lasting impression. ‘Soaking in Formula’ is reminiscent of a meditation tutorial, and quickly becomes irritating in its repetition. ‘Anime’ is forgettable; its only merit being that its instrumentals would fit rather well in the background of a retro Nintendo game. 

 ‘Moonlight’ brings the album to a close, and shows a gentler side to Gengahr’s shelter. ‘Sanctuary’ proves to be an inconsistent oasis, which sees Gengahr shine as they strive to be their most courageous. While some tracks are uninspired, it is a step towards maturity, and that in itself is commendable.

Image: Paul Hudson via Flickr

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