According to band members, the name Ganglians arose from a portmanteau of “Gangz” and “Aliens,” the first term being considered too thuggish for their psych-pop style. The Ganglians formed in Sacramento after Grubbs was asked to play a show and asked the other three to be his backing band. In 2009, the band released their debut single, a split 7” with Eat Skull. In the spring of that year the band played SXSW and in May released both their self-title EP and their first full-length album Monster Head Room on the label Woodist. After signing to Lefse Records the band released their second album Still Living, which had a sound shaped with the help of Dirty Projector’s producer Robby Moncrieff.
Until recently, Sacramento was hardly known as an indie rock hotbed. Sure, some notable alternative bands emerged from the California capital in the ’80s and ’90s—Cake, Deftones, Far and, um, Papa Roach—but few acts possessed the winning combination of indie scene cred and accessible pop hooks. But If the world is a fair and just place, then Ganglians will soon be the band to put Sacramento back on the lips of every tastemaking blogger. Led by singer and guitarist Ryan Grubbs, who moved from Portland before starting the group in 2008, Ganglians fuse the rustic Americana leanings of Neil Young with a distinctly lo-fi aesthetic that seems more Brooklyn than River City. The band’s 2011 album Still Living is a thrilling and vital document of rich, psychedelic songwriting coated in buckets of reverb. Grubbs is clearly a fan of the delay pedal, as evidenced by the looping patterns and circular harmonies of “California Cousins” and echoing opener “Drop the Act,” which almost sounds like The Cure if Robert Smith ditched the gloom and recorded in a DayGlo factory. Still Living is a record of extremes: slow, chugging numbers like “That’s What I Want” sit next to garage rock barnburners; a Beach Boys influence pops up on the jubilant “Jungle,” but the song ends in a discordant blast of found sound and car alarms. Recorded with the aid of Robby Moncrieff—who also helped Dirty Projectors go from weird to enthralling on Bitte Orca—Still Living is a sonic step up from their pair of 2009 records, Ganglians and Monster Head Room. It’s a collection of songs that sounds both labored over and unfussy and acutely captures the mood of its makers. Ganglians make summer music for people who would never go near Top 40 radio, for beach bums and burnouts who still want to share a few beers and spend all afternoon barbecuing with friends. They might not make Sacramento the new Williamsburg, but with music this great, who really cares?