Year on year, January is a very exciting month for Music Journalists. We live in hope that this will be THE year for music, chockfull of interesting new talent to fill our blogs and magazines with. It’s a chance to enthuse about the big bands set to make returns, the first tentative whispers as to the summer’s festival line up’s and of course, the artists who are anticipated to be the next big thing.
One of the bands I’ve noted on a lot of these ‘Big for 2012’ polls is young Minneapolis five piece Howler. Having seen them support The Vaccines in Leeds at the tail end of last year, I found them to be an intriguing prospect – nothing to storm the streets about, but undoubtedly in possession of a certain ‘something’ and an air of quiet determination. Now with a copy of their debut album, ‘America Give Up’ in my hands, I have set about putting my finger on what that ‘something’ is.
That ‘something’, as it turns out, is an introspective knowledge of what sells. Namely, a mix of trendy americana imagery, surf pop riffs and a drawling vocal delivery, all wrapped up in a neat, nonchalantly cool package that will undoubtedly seep into the consciousness of any fashion conscious youngster on the lookout for the next big thing. It’s no coincidence that the very first thing you hear from track one is a series of handclaps that positively reek of Grease and prom dresses – this is a very current, savvy bunch of musicians. I’m not one to go for an easy reference point,but you really can’t avoid the Strokes comparison, lead singer Jordan Gatesmith clearly basing his vocal style and self-deprecating way with a lyric (‘I hate myself more than I hate you’ from Told You Once being a highlight) on a certain Mr Casablancas. Nods to the likes of The Drums (‘America’), Best Coast (‘Too Much Blood’) and tourmates The Vaccines (‘Back to the Grave’) are also in strong evidence, making the album sound disconcertingly familiar even on a first listen.
Although it may come across at times as a little contrived, it’s hard not to find something to like about ‘America Give Up’. Whilst their aesthetic and approach may be a little ham fisted (having tracks titled ‘Beach Sluts’ and ‘Pythagorean Fearem’ is a recipe for irritation), singles ‘Told You Once’ and ‘Back Of The Neck’ are as brilliantly hummable as any new bands could hope for, and are set to become staples at indie club nights. In truth, the whole second half of the album is twice as strong as the first, ‘Black Lagoon’ and ‘Wailing (Making Out)’ proving that Howler are far stronger when they hit their instruments a little harder.
So whats the verdict? At the moment, I’m a little on the fence. There’s plenty to like, and definitely a good selection of tracks that I’d be glad to see pop up when I shuffle my iPod. Sadly however, there’s not quite enough to truly love, especially in today’s industry where bands come along more often than a DFS sofa sale. With a little more variety to their sound, Howler could do very well. Maybe in time, this will come to them. But as it stands as a debut, ‘America Give Up’ owes a little too much to its ancestors to be something truly special.