Jaala – ‘Gap Tooth’ review: sensuous, synth-heavy sounds from an evolving band

The Melbourne three-piece make a trippy, jazzy left-turn on their third record

‘Gap Tooth’, the new album from Melbourne band Jaala, is a study in what happens when a rock band disintegrates and from its remains, a new, curious creature emerges. Where bassist Loretta Wilde and guitarist Nic Lam were key players on 2015 debut album ‘Hard Hold’, the band are now a three-piece: namesake vocalist Cosima Jaala, drummer Maria Moles and electronic artist Fia Fell.

Absent the traditional tools of rock, the sensuous, shimmering atmosphere on ‘Gap Tooth’ is guided largely by the percussive beat and Fiell’s artistry with digital palettes. It’s a sensory funhouse, relying on imaginative sonic landscapes to convey their music and message.

This is an album that proudly shows off a band unafraid of evolving, and an artist maturing in public. Cosima Jaala was raised in Brisbane, before studying Fine Arts at RMIT in Melbourne, and ultimately discovering her musical voice with the aid of a banjo, however improbable it is as a first instrument.

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It signposted weird times ahead and Jaala delivered, joining punk bands and thriving on the frenetic energy promised by that DIY attitude to music-making. That thrash-and-dash energy characterised the melodic, if endearingly chaotic, first LP ‘Hard Hold’, followed by the the funky, grungy ‘Joonya Spirit’ in 2018 (after which, Lam and second bassist Jules Pascoe departed the band).

‘Gap Tooth’ is a trippy, jazzy album made by a band who are older, wiser, and more confident. Opener ‘All Here’ is the lovechild of Goldfrapp and My Bloody Valentine, the smoky soundtrack to a moonlit evening as Jaala croons “what is mine is yours, what do I need anymore… I can’t tell us apart”. The love-drunk patter of cymbals and drums keep subtle time as a guitar melody weaves around Jaala’s soft-edged incantation to infatuation. “Are we awake?” coos Jaala on ‘Been Bad’. The sweep of strings, echoing voices and her slightly manic confession “I’ve been bad, I’ve been bad” could all be the figments of a lucid dream.

It’s no coincidence, perhaps, that ‘Gap Tooth’s synthesiser-heavy soundscape, heavily borrowing from swaying jazz tunes, was recorded at Melbourne’s The Grove Studios. Studio founder and ‘Gap Tooth’ producer Nick Herrera was an engineer on Hiatus Kaiyote’s lush ‘Mood Valiant’. Jaala’s voice is a tamer animal than Nai Palm’s, sultry and feminine in a distinct left-turn from the sometimes throaty, brittle-edged vocal excursions on ‘Hard Hold’.

She sounds vulnerable and delicate on ‘Fuck To The Radio’, which also boasts heavy reverb worthy of Mazzy Star. Jaala is almost carried along by pure melodic momentum towards epiphany: As the bass amplifies, and her vocals become a multi-layered, resonant wall of sound, the song fizzles out into radio static.

According to Herrera, Jaala recorded all her vocals herself in bedrooms “to get that intimate feeling”. Despite being recorded separately from the instrumentals, her voice melts fluidly into the arrangements. Nowhere is this more so than the melancholic, sparkling ‘Catterpil’, which closes the album. Hannah Macklin’s cosmic, astrally-channeled harmonies give an ethereal, sacred glow to the whole affair.

Though languid and luxurious, ‘Gap Tooth’ does sometimes feel as if the instrumental arrangements have been so laboured over that the craft has trumped the intended intimacy. That’s an observation, however, unlikely to deter discerning fans, both new and old, from discovering and devouring Jaala’s latest album.

Details

Jaala Gap Tooth album review
  • Release date: November 5
  • Record label: Heavy Machinery
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