Howling Bells Radio Wars Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

The second chance may well have been squandered.

Keira Burgess 2009

Juanita Stein and her trio of impossibly beautiful bandmates return with an album so formless it's barely recognisable as the product of one of the decade's most promising debutante bands.

Sydney's Howling Bells were one of the underrated treasures of 2006. Their self-titled debut album of haunting waltzes, country balladry, epic ambience and all-out indie rock was drowned in the swamp of bands emerging in the wake of Arctic Monkey mania, despite extensive touring with the likes of The Killers and Placebo. Their failure to gain notoriety thankfully prevented the possibility of being forgotten in the midst of that swamp, as was the case with so many of the new acts that year, and this second outing can be looked upon as their second chance at making a first impression.

Despite uprooting from their homeland and firmly ensconcing themselves in London life, Howling Bells' first record evoked Australia both in its sound and its imagery. It was a collection of tracks individual from each other and strong both standing alone and in amalgamation. Unfortunately, Radio Wars is the antithesis.

Much of the material here is so directionless it's simply bland. Opener Treasure Hunt has the same echoes of shoegaze that helped to make the debut so enchanting, but lacks any semblance of a tune. It Ain't You and Let's Be Kids drudge and drag through their 3 minute durations, seeming twice as long and thrice as laborious.

Ms Bell's Song brightens the outlook, albeit only slightly, with cute xylophone and a psychedelic run-on named Radio Wars Theme, inspired by an oddly behaving radio which went on to provide the album with its motif and its moniker.

Singles Into The Chaos and Cities Burning Down are the better tracks, but tellingly would have been the weakest if included on the debut's playlist. It seems the quartet's decision to produce this album 'democratically' - each member writing their contribution separately - has resulted in an ill-fitting and impotent collection. The second chance may well have been squandered.

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