Howler – America Give Up (Rough Trade)
By Scott Creney
Don’t mistake that album title for something so outdated as a point-of-view. As far as I can tell, Howler music is pretty much content-free. There’s nothing political, or observational, about their music, so don’t go looking for it.
They’re from Minneapolis, but it’s the UK that’s going crazy for them. Are they cute? Are you fucking kidding me?
Howler qualifies as pop in a 1974 sense, in a 1981 sense, and in a 2001 sense as well. But in 2012, they’re just one more band looking backwards, worshipping reverently at the altar of rock. Howler hopes if they cram their records with enough recycled hooks, handclaps, ooh-oohs, guitar/bass/drums, and keep acting like they’re having fun-fun-fun, then maybe one day they too might be acknowledged as great (though they can never be as great as legends like, you know, The Beatles or The Smiths). Of course in Howler’s case, The Strokes and the JAMC are the more obvious influences, which is its own kind of sadness. Frontperson Jordan Gatesmith even looks like a genetic splicing of Julian Casablancas and Bradford Cox.
At times Gatesmith sounds like Lloyd Cole, only without the pretension. Which is a little disturbing seeing as how Lloyd Cole’s pretensions were pretty much all he had to offer.
For me, Howler is unbearably dull — always energetic, but never excited. They sound like opportunists with an extremely narrow definition of opportunity. Given the chance to say anything, Howler chooses to say as little as possible. Good for them. They will live and die on the strengths of their hooks. And as long as nobody’s heard the 5,000 or so albums that have already done this kind of thing and done it much, much better, I suppose their record label will make a profit — and what could be more important than that?
Surprising as sleep, risky as spaghetti, and as courageous as sharpening your pencil, this is Howler. I wish these boys all the luck in the world. They’re going to need it.