Review – Howler “America Give Up”

Local rockers Howler have the British press going rabid, but does their debut full-length live up to the hype?

by Tony

âÄúAmerica Give UpâÄù

Artist: Howler

Label: Rough Trade

Last year saw a number of Twin Cities bands breaking through into the indie blogosphere and even the iTunes top-selling charts. The rise of Howler might be the biggest success story of all, but it happened so quickly that many people hardly noticed.

The band was plucked from obscurity by London-based indie heavyweight Rough Trade after only one EP and a few local shows. The quartetâÄôs profile overseas quickly eclipsed their following in the Midwest, after significant blog buzz and profiles in The Guardian and NME, rife with comparisons to The Strokes.

Now, with the release of their first full-length, âÄúAmerica Give Up,âÄù Howler finds itself in the strange position of being overexposed, but also reintroducing themselves to fans in the Midwest, who have caught on to the hype and raised their expectations accordingly.

First, The Strokes comparisons arenâÄôt unfounded. In fact, they seem a little calculated. Howler frontman Jordan Gatesmith does his best imitation of Strokes frontman Julian CasablancasâÄô fuzzed-out croon throughout the album, and even looks like the Strokes vocalist. Mid-album cut âÄúWailing (Making Out)âÄù could easily be mistaken for a track off of âÄúRoom on Fire.âÄù This isnâÄôt necessarily a bad thing; the part fits Gatesmith well, and the songwriting on âÄúAmerica Give UpâÄù doesnâÄôt sound derivative.

HowlerâÄôs sound is a stylistic smash-and-grab of rock history, similar to The Drums and recent tour mates The Vaccines. The four-piece is at their best when they inject a liberal amount of surf-pop jangle into their dirty guitar rock, as they do on the single âÄúBack of Your NeckâÄù or the albumâÄôs stunning opener, âÄúBeach Sluts.âÄù

The first four tracks on âÄúAmerica Give UpâÄù slide into each other well and demonstrate what Howler can do within their limited range. When Howler drags the shimmering guitars, âÄúoooh-ahhhsâÄù and handclaps through the mud in just the right way, the results are powerful, and do well to meet the expectations that have been foisted upon them.

Unfortunately, the drowsy âÄúToo Much BloodâÄù stops this progress cold and leads into a more uneven second half. EP holdover âÄúTold You OnceâÄù falls flat with cleaner sound that put too much focus on GatesmithâÄôs uninteresting lyrics, but Howler brings it back again with the propulsive grit of âÄúPythagorean FearemâÄù and strong closer âÄúBlack Lagoon.âÄù

Overall, âÄúAmerica Give UpâÄù is a solid debut that largely delivers on the hype. Howler seems to have well-developed songwriting chops and a good grasp on what they do well. City PagesâÄô Year of Music cover portrayed Howler as bigger than their hometown; theyâÄôve proven themselves worthy of this buzz so far. Hopefully they can keep the momentum going with subsequent releases and avoid the fate of countless buzzbands that have come before them.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars