Release Date: Mar 25, 2014
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
In an age of agnostics, Howler are true believers – and that’s got to be worth something. Yet while their debut album undoubtedly had its moments, let’s not beat around the bush: it was hard to listen to ‘America Give Up’ and not be struck by a nagging sense of having heard it done before, better, and really not all that long ago. You’re rooting for them to add up to more than the sum of all those well-chosen parts, but the truth is, until now, we’ve been more in love with the idea of Howler – the leather jackets, the droll outsider insouciance, the exceptional cheekbones – than the reality of a replacement Replacements.
Just a couple months after Howler’s debut America Give Up shocked and awed snotty rock ‘n’ roll fans across the U.S. and U.K., frontman Jordan Gatesmith told us that the songs he was writing for Howler’s next album would take a ‘60s pop twist. The Minnesota-based four-piece’s first album was essentially a Gatesmith solo project written in the 19-year-old’s parents’ basement.
On World of Joy, the rowdy fun Howler strove for on America Give Up is more easily in their reach. That they wrote their second album as a band -- including new drummer Rory MacMurdo -- instead of merely fleshing out Jordan Gatesmith's ideas like they did last time, gives these songs more personality, as well as more of rock & roll's trashy glamour and grand gestures: witness "Indictment"'s showy, slowed-down bridge and plummeting breakdown, or the chugging and charging "In the Red. " Envisioning the album as a jukebox full of songs inspired by their favorite artists, Gatesmith and company touch on '80s punk and college rock.
There’s a notable line in ‘Don’t Wanna’, World of Joy’s lead single: “You don't have to listen to The Smiths if you don't want to…” Is it a statement of non-conformist reassurance or a derision of Howler's (now very much defunct) labelmates? There’s also an open goal of an interpretation of this particular missive that will set purveyors of indie gossip off, given that Howler’s frontman Jordan Gatesmith has dated Johnny Marr’s daughter, Sonny, for some time. But enough textual facetiousness about seminal Manchester bands and their loose associations to Midwestern garage outfits – let’s instead debate the thrills and spills of the Minneapolis four-piece’s latest effort, World of Joy, their not totally-dissimilar follow-up to 2011 debut America Give Up. The latter propelled Howler into the deceitful realm of hype specially reserved for buzz indie bands, but whilst exhaustive touring efforts and NME adoration earned them a respectable following, they never quite broke through to the other side.
When it was released, “Don’t Wanna”, the suave lead single from Howler’s second record World of Joy, suggested wonder waif Jordan Gatesmith and his outlaw gang of snake-hipped streetpunks may have changed their ways. Y’know, put away childish things, cut their hair, washed their jeans. Their 2012 debut America Give Up was a mayhem Molotov of degenerate delinquency, spraypainted brassy and bold with the slumdog sounds of the Ramones and Iggy Pop.
There’s often a tendency for a second album to have less energy than the first. Not to suggest that the band are going to be keeling over with Fender made Zimmer frames for instruments; but a skiff of the youthful vitality and aggression is lost. Alternatively, second album woes can come in the shape of a record which is far too similar to the first; showing little progression or experimentation.
You have to feel sorry for Howler. A decade ago, the Minneapolitan quartet would have been huge, surfing the wave of skinny-jeaned garage rock. Now, though, they seem like a band marooned out of time, which is a shame, because their second album – though lacking a little of their debut's verve – is awash with pleasures. They've expanded their surf-punk horizons, with opener Al's Corral cheekily stealing from Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak, and the title track offering a darkly psychedelic drone.
Between breathless early accolades, inking a deal with Rough Trade on the strength of a five-song EP, and frontman Jordan Gatesmith’s not-so-advanced age, you could spend a lot of time talking about Minneapolis’ Howler before ever getting around to their music. In the two years since America Give Up—their slack-inflected, Strokes-damaged debut LP—the young Gatesmith’s grown even more grizzled-beyond-his-years, and the band’s gone looser, more ramshackle, cleaving most of the taut turn-of-the-millenium NYC from their sound. World of Joy, Howler’s sophomore set, arrives with hardly a fraction of America Give Up’s hype.
Here’s to youthful vim: On the second album by Minneapolis four-piece Howler, an energy level worthy of forebears the Replacements, Soul Asylum and even, in places, Husker Du is dialed up, making such tracks as the thrumming/thrashy “Indictment” and the hardcore-tilting “Drip” buzz around the listener’s head like so many hornets. Here’s to youthful vigor: With a power pop genuflection factor worthy of the anthemic likes of Britain’s Only Ones, Rich Kids, Damned, etc. , Howler dips further back, by another decade, into the so-called rich tapestry of rock.