Melbourne-based art-rock band Jaala released their third studio album “Gap Tooth” on Nov. 5, 2021. The band consists of frontwoman Cosima Jaala on vocals and guitar, Maria Moles on drums and Fia Fiell on additional electronics and production.
“Gap Tooth” marks a departure from the typical spunk that marked Jaala’s previous work. In its place now are washes of cathartic shoegaze, featuring slower tempos, psychedelic guitars and blankets of reverb. While their signature undertones of math rock and neo-soul stay consistent, they take a different form here, lending themselves to the dream-like quality of this record.
To be honest, when I first listened to “Gap Tooth” upon its release, I could not tell you a single thing about it. It felt too “same-y,” like the band had one idea and stretched it across eight tracks. Only on many repeated listens did I begin to peel back its layers one-by-one.
While the album feels longer than it actually is because of its genre, its mere 33-minute runtime leaves a lasting impact. “Gap Tooth” in that way feels like a high, one akin to the one that comes after midnight.
From the beginning riff on “All Here,” the record’s opener, the listener is immediately propelled into a nocturnal euphoria. Every instrument — the drums, the vocals and the guitars — are sugarcoated in a myriad of effects. It is an out-of-body musical experience: even the percussion changes time signatures unpredictably. The off-kilter ambience of this track sets the stage appropriately for the rest of “Gap Tooth” to blossom.
The next track is “F**k to the Radio,” whose title alone tells you everything you need to know about it. I’m especially mesmerized by the pedals used on the guitars here, blowing out the speakers by the end of the song. Uneven polyrhythm grooves again make an appearance, mimicking the swaying of hips. It’s unabashedly sexy, catchy and enrapturing.
After comes the contrasting and chilly “Workhorse,” picking up the pace of the album. It begins with a synth arpeggiator, faster than previous tracks, and includes percussion more upfront in the mix. That doesn’t detract from the psychedelia of this track — it just takes the shape of sharper, more intricate textures.
The warmth returns on “Been Bad,” capturing “Gap Tooth”’s midnight high in its most essential form. Jaala sings about “los[ing] our way,” pondering “how are we awake?” It’s a favorite of mine: the vocal performance on the chorus sends chills down my spine every time. “I’ve been bad,” she sings simply with a melody that rings far into the early hours of the morning. It’s grounded without losing its charm, driving without losing its downtempo. The band painted an incredibly accurate portrait of the night, not only on “Been Bad,” but “Gap Tooth” at large.
The rest of the album undulates between different shades and tastes of similar palettes as earlier tracks with different takes. “Which Way” reads on the surface as a grittier version of “All Here,” however, the prog-rock style breakdown close to the end gives the song its own flavor. Jaala’s vocals also are teasing and needy: “You’re all I need,” she coos into the mic.
This sentiment is carried onto “I Love You (DJ Set),” which reads like a Hiatus Kaiyote style nu-jazz cut — of course, with odd time signatures and strange chords. I appreciate how the band pulled the veils reverb and effects back to allow for a rawer performance on this song. “Funny Shapes” also shares this quality with its organic keys glistening on the high-end.
The closer, “Caterpill,” ends the record on a dawning note. The sun has come up, and the molasses of “Gap Tooth” is mostly gone; however, that doesn’t take away from how saccharine this song is. Whistling backing vocals mimic Jaala’s guitar playing as she “lays here,” watching the world bloom into day. It’s a quaint closer that wakes you up from the dream of this album.
It’s hard to put into words how “Gap Tooth” makes me feel. It transcends genre and mood in a way that puzzles me with each listen. Somehow, I still am lulled into its molasses lullabies and midnight high each listen regardless of my intentions going into the record. That’s what makes it a worthy listen in my eyes: its ability to rock you into sleep so sweetly.