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.
Having turned heads with a series of fiery (and fleeting) live shows, frontman Jordan Gatesmith’s crew have wasted little time in realising an album of thoroughly contagious, albeit fairly derivative, Strokes-flavoured gutter-rock. These 11 tracks zip by, dashing from start to finish in a breathtaking 32 minutes.
There may be a paucity of original ideas across this set’s running time, but it will stir within listeners memories of great moments in gutter-rock history. When Gatesmith sings, "I scrape my kneeeeeeees," on America it sounds like Lou Reed has temporarily stolen his microphone. Elsewhere, Back to the Grave’s macabre but fun lyrics – "I want someone to take me out tonight / We’ll go back to the grave before we turn out the lights" – could easily be lifted from a lost Ramones tune.
Scientists have yet to convincingly prove that writing killer song titles automatically enhances your chances of sexual and financial success but, if they do, Howler are in for a sweet future. Another (perchance rotten) peach of a title, alongside Back to the Grave, is the album’s opener: Beach Sluts. Its riffs are reminiscent of The Drums or The Vaccines, but it also has handclaps aplenty, and it’s this palm-on-palm percussion that carries the track towards greatness.
Too Much Blood (another great title) slows down the outfit’s punkier tendencies to hiss and snarl like The Jesus and Mary Chain, while Free Drunk (yet another marvellous moniker) is this debut’s greatest moment. Its chorus melodies might be stolen from Tom Petty, but here we find Gatesmith’s most widescreen and windswept vocal, impressive atop feedback and riffs that feel like dirt underneath your fingernails. Top stuff.
There is one moment of (unintentional?) hilarity on the album: the third song is called This One’s Different, but anyone expecting a panpipe version of Cotton Eye Joe will be disappointed. Instead the song’s riffs paint pictures of whiskey-swillers in leatherjackets, just like every other song here. But what better way to fight off the dull winter?