Release Date: Jan 16, 2012
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The best thing to have happened to [a]Howler[/a] in their short lifespan occurred on December 4, 2011. This was the day on which the BBC Sound Of 2012 poll was announced, and they were not in it. In July, their inclusion in this and other such lists had seemed certain, thanks to [b]‘I Told You Once’[/b]’s gruff, distinctive vocal and audaciously pilfered Elvis Presley riff – [b]‘(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame’[/b] – not to mention its colourful video set in a school gym full of dancing girls, which made full use of Jordan Gatesmith’s doe eyes and very good hair.
Howler's problem is this: how do you cause a pop cataclysm with your debut album when it already sounds secondhand? Secondhand because, as every piece you will read about the Minneapolis band will mention (it's impossible to avoid), they sound almost exactly like the Strokes did when their own debut really did cause a pop cataclysm. The production has that same hazy rawness, Jordan Gatesmith's voice has that insouciant slur, the guitars alternate between fuzz and twang. So the success of America Give Up depends entirely on the quality of the songs, and Howler have enough good ones to remind you of how good the Strokes used to be, rather than make you think how much better the Strokes are than this.
“It’s ALIVE! ALIVE, I tell you!” Yup, roughly ten minutes into Howler’s debut, I was rolling my hands maniacally with glee, giggling, bug-eyed and pacing the laboratory like Dr. Frankenstein during a perfect storm. “Rock ‘n’ roll is dead, hey?? Wait until they get a load of these guys! Mu-ha-ha-ha, etc.” Meet America Give Up, 32 minutes of snotty, bratty, loud, potty-mouthed rock ‘n’ roll.
It may upset folks rooting for Howler that they continuously get compared to the Strokes, but it's not like the band doesn't deserve it. After all, these affable Minnesotans offer the sort of spry and strummy "no bullshit" rock music that made tons of folks spring for the more expensive and less tastefully covered version of Is This It more than 10 years ago. That Howler's transformation from local faves to darlings of the international music press was aided by favorable write-ups in both The New York Times and the NME, as well as the breathless, semi-mythic pursuit of Rough Trade Records-- the storied UK label reportedly flew overseas to sign the band based on its unsolicited demo-- only help strengthen the spiritual bond between these two groups.
Last year, Howler’s This One’s Different EP sent a few waves through the British press, most notably NME; they may have also impressed anyone who saw The Vaccines headline a show before Christmas (Howler served as support), particularly those looking for back-to-basics guitar rock to make them believe that rock is not dead. Picking up right where they left off, Howler’s debut full-length America Give Up opens with a strong, unaccompanied guitar riff before being joined by a loose beat, clapped and drummed together, before singer/guitarist Jordan Gatesmith quickly reaches a chorus that more enthusiastic reviewers will not hesitate to call “anthemic,” due in part to lyrics about “drinking in the afternoon” and the declaration that he’d “never want to waste your time. ” And waste our time is one thing Howler certainly does not do, with the three minute opener Beach Sluts concluding with no bridge and a brief outro, a shape of things to come for the rest of the 11 track, 32 minute album.
Three-minute blasts of guitars, drums, bass, and attitude may be among the simplest kinds of songs to make, but they're also some of the hardest to make truly distinctive. The Strokes did it by evoking the heyday of New York's punk and new wave scene, infusing it with emotions that veered from too cool for school to unbridled glee; the Ramones did it by subverting the sounds of '50s and '60s innocence with tales of sniffing glue and being sedated; and the Libertines did it by harking back to the Beatles and the Clash while adding their own debauchery and poetry. Howler obviously hold these sounds and bands in great reverence, and that may be what inhibits them from fully inhabiting their music: they've got the handclaps, the strutting riffs, and the backing vocals in just the right places, but there isn't much that makes their music stand out from what came before them.
Rockists love the idea of a saviour. Music is a tribal business and you suspect dedicated followers of chord play are currently lurking out the Adele years, holding their hands over their ears in public places, cranking up the Vaccines album whenever their kind gather, sulkily waiting for a messianic combo to come along, pull an enchanted guitar out of a big rack made of stone and righteously tip the scales of the zeitgeist back in rock's favour. The scriptures – well, a rump NME, some sites, some blogs, a few Tumblrs – fervently hope that "they" will come again: another Strokes.
Hyped by frontman Jordan Gatesmith as the next great dirty rock 'n' roll record, the debut LP from Minneapolis five-piece Howler delivers catchy choruses, danceable garage rock riffs and narcissistic machismo, all the requisites of the Next Big Rock Record Wrought From Sexual Frustration. Their sound falls somewhere in between the Strokes' pop precision and the Jesus and Mary Chain's grungy detachment. Peppered with riffs and references typical of young musicians rabidly researching their predecessors (Back To The Grave's melody borrows from JAMC's Taste Of Cindy, just one of the many quotations), this is an endearing and eminently likeable listen.
It’s not unfair to say records easily liked are generally harder to review. Falling awkwardly into this camp, America Give Up, the debut full-length from good old-fashioned six-string Minneapolitans Howler, is a hurtling, high-octane thing, as welcoming as it is entirely unoriginal. It’s “seeing double”. It’s “drinking in the afternoon”.
Unfortunately for Howler, the Strokes’ last album wasn’t a stinker; otherwise this spirited bunch of young Minnesotans would probably take their place as the rightful heirs to the throne of fuzzy, floppy-haired, lo-fi strum ’n’ roll. While Casablancas and Co. can still bear each other’s company long enough to show the young pretenders how it’s done, bands like Howler will continue being the young wannabes stuck in the kitchen at the cool kids’ house party.
A debut to stir memories of great moments in gutter-rock history. Lou Thomas 2012 It would make it easy for lazy critics if Howler proved to be a real dog of a band, causing pre-release naysayers to howl with laughter. But the tipped Minneapolis mob has delivered a succinct and energetic debut album that casts aside any doubts as to their qualities.