Monday, January 16, 2012

Howler - America Give Up (Rough Trade)

Our end-of-2011 rant about how the charts have turned into some sort of awful, overproduced pop marshland still stands. But with a new year comes new hope, and amongst the small-but-assured list of promising new releases is the debut album from Minnesota five-piece Howler: it’s cocky, surf-heavy, semi-countrified, and all kinds of noisy. But is it any good.

A mere couple of bars into Beach Sluts, the opening track of America Give Up, and it’s already pretty clear Howler mean business. A frenetic yet rhythmic carnival of amp-shaking alt-rock, you’d be forgiven for wondering how they’ll maintain that energy throughout. And yet, they manage it.

The pace slows down from time to time, such as the brooding Too Much Blood, but the scratchy, intense stamp is still very much present. In contrast, the few occasions they employ a major key – yet still maintaining the Howler passion – makes for an interesting blend. In fact, the surf guitar jollity of Told You Once or lead single Back of Your Neck arguably provide the album’s standout moments.

Another artist tackling such busy productions would have difficulty selling it as anything other than white noise. But Howler have a gift for instantaneous, infectious choruses, that every crunching riff, every wallop of the cymbal, every superfluous bit of noodling create the perfect backing for.

The intense, unforgiving arrangements and the snarling vocals are unlikely to please everyone, occasionally sitting just this side of uncomfortable. But crucially, it’s not fully there – it’s sometimes a hard listen, perhaps, but it’s a worthwhile one.

The wet-behind-the-ears enthusiasm of America Give Up has a touch of early Kings of Leon about it – not sonically, but in that it conjures up the very real possibility of greatness. Who knew that the distinguished mix of ‘a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll’ could result in something so bold, so vibrant, and so brilliantly cacophonous?

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