Review by Chris Gedos
PHOTO: Jordan Gatesmith of Howler
The only way to accurately judge Howler’s debut album is to break it down and critique each individual variable, such as songs, production, musicianship, originality, etc., for to approach it otherwise forces one to harp upon Is This It. Not that America Give Up is trying to be The Strokes verbatim, but the two bands have already been so relentlessly linked by the populace that we’re really beating a horse dead by this point. Two American bands who both broke big in England first and both are trying to save “Garage Rock” and etc., which many regard as the most pure descendant of that old time rock n’ roll. Many bands have done the same thing before and after, the story is old, let’s move on.
Howler is from Minneapolis, which gave us The Replacements and Husker Dü, and Howler does compare favorably with Tim at moments, namely “This One’s Different” and “America”, but for me America Give Up really calls to mind a different mid-80’s masterpiece, Psychocandy, by the Scottish band, Jesus and Mary Chain. Both Psychocandy and America Give Up succeed by merging pop and noise while transcending the noise pop moniker. Jesus and Mary Chain wrote noisy songs that want to be poppier, while Howler writes poppy songs which want to be noisier. If WU LYF plays “Heavy Pop”, Howler plays “angry pop”, music too robust for the Warped Tour Scene but also too supposedly pastiche for some tastemakers, but for those more discerning it’s a wonderful break from the self-serious rock we’ve been too accustomed to as of late.
America Give Up is a great album, incredibly listenable from A to Z, a 2012 album with a proper A-side and a B-side. So with all these thoughts swirling about, I was very interested to hear Howler live. Would they play America Give Up verbatim?
PHOTO: Montreal based TOPS opening the show.
Mad props to current tour-mates The Static Jacks for warming up the crowd right before Howler. Fresh on the heels of their first full-length, If You’re Young, they’re also about to tour for the second time with The Wombats. Static Jacks brought a powerful and thoroughly enjoyable set with pretty good songs across the board. Their style’s slightly more pop-punk than a band like Howler, but it’s loud and abrasive and all that good stuff. In other words: they sound exactly how a band like them should sound. They’ve also got the same ironic sense of humor as Mr. Gatesmith and cohorts. The Static Jacks hail from New Jersey; fans of fellow Jerseyites, The Milwaukees, will find much to love. Very good live band.
PHOTO: The Static Jacks
Howler opened their set with “Wailing (Making Out)”, and that magical guitar lick about halfway through the song. That’s the thing about Howler: for me their songs blend together somewhat, but they have these magical moments which rank with the great debuts of yesteryear. They’ve also had the good fortune of honing their live set in front of a highly critical UK audience. They therefore weren’t fazed by the zombified LA crowd, i.e. no one was grooving to these insanely catchy tunes. From there they transitioned into LP opener “Beach Sluts”, a song which sets the tone for what Howler’s about. The song they played from the EP is a welcome departure from the LP, as the EP showcases Gatesmith’s versatility as a lyricist. We fans kept screaming out for the song “Free Drunk”, but the band never played it, rather keeping the set short and sweet, nine songs in barely half an hour. It would’ve been nice to hear a couple more, but Howler chose to let their youthful hubris shine on a cool March evening at the Echo. They instead took some time with fans after the set, something which occurs less and less often these days in an attempt to make a band seem more ‘mysterious’. But Howler is a transparent band (check out their tour videos) with a memorable if transparent album. What you see is what you get. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
Howler – Beach Sluts