Apparently, suggesting any likeness between Howler and The Strokes is in some way exhausted and thus, a bit of a faux pas. However, I don’t feel it needs to be suggested, as the immediate likenesses are irrefutable. Another American indie rock band, achieving a lo-fi sound in their recordings, clad in Converse trainers and leather jackets, smoking cigarettes, whilst our frontman effortlessly croones into the microphone through a matted fringe. Despite the aesthetic similarities, America Give Up does more than enough to assure that Howler avoid the damnation of the copycat band.
Describing their music on myspace as ‘thrash-surf’ might be deemed as purposeful marginalisation. Certainly elements of surf do push through in some of the tracks, like ‘Pythagorean Fearem’, ‘Beach Sluts’ or ‘Too Much Blood’ in which the super-fuzzy guitar sound aligns them closer with The Ravonettes or San-Diego noise/surf-rock band Wavves, though certainly the sound is much more accessible. The thrash element is distinct to some extent; at least there is a very definite punk influence throughout. More beach-bop Ramones, even early Dead Kennedy’s at a push than Megadeath but there’s something in that claim. Possibly they want to assert their earlier influences to avoid being thrown in the endless chasm of indie-rock and slipping into anonymity. “Remember that surf-thrash band, Howler” being favourable to “Remember that 2010-ish indie-rock band… no, not The Strokes, another one”.
Overall this is a pretty fast-paced record, 32 minutes back-to-back. For me there is a welcome absence of tempo-shift, clearly they found no need to fill the quota for emotionality, which would further induce them into becoming the radio-friendly indie band no-one wants them to become. ‘Back Of Your Neck’, available as a free download for signing up to the mailing list, or for ‘liking’ the band page on facebook, demonstrates a capacity for great song-writing. The ‘woo-ing’ chorus is immediately memorable and the composition is great. Over-driven guitar and a distorted lo-fi vocal sound in conjunction with great lyrics like “you think we’re Bonny and Clyde, but both of them fucking died” (the expletive is omitted in the radio edit) make this track an obvious choice of single.
What I would have liked from America Give Up is for Howler to combine their surf and punk influenced sounds without detracting from the melodies of tracks like ‘Back Of Your Neck’ or ‘Told You Once’. ‘America’, ‘Free Drunk’ and ‘You Like White Women. I Like Cigarettes’ – available to hear on myspace, not on the record, explore this middle-ground sound, without being at all compromising.
Overall, the album is nothing ground breaking; some great tunes and good sounds, but there is a distinct lack of innovation. Curiously it is proffered by certain publications as one of the defining sounds of the future. Thus far we’re hearing the sounds of the past -wonderful as they are, re-vamped; the musical manifestation of digital photographs with grained effects. It’s great to aspire to the heroes and founders of modern music, but I hope that in the future Howler will discover a sound more their own.
Released on 16th January 2012 by Rough Trade