Music

Howler: America Give Up

Rock 'n' roll is a place for outcasts, freaks, geeks and the clinically insane. Howler, quite sensibly, believe it should stay that way. Bravo!


Howler

America Give Up

US Release: 2012-01-17
UK Release: 2012-01-16
Label: Rough Trade
Amazon
iTunes

"It's ALIVE! ALIVE, I tell you!"

Yup, roughly ten minutes into Howler's debut, I was rolling my hands maniacally with glee, giggling, bug-eyed and pacing the laboratory like Dr. Frankenstein during a perfect storm. "Rock 'n' roll is dead, hey?? Wait until they get a load of these guys! Mu-ha-ha-ha, etc." Meet America Give Up, 32 minutes of snotty, bratty, loud, potty-mouthed rock 'n' roll. Howler's fresh-faced quintuplets are born kicking 'n' screaming and 'gift wrapped with a studded bow ready to annoy the hell out of your neighbours. Igor, lower the drawbridge ... .

America Give Up (a perfect "Stick 'em up, muthafuckers" title for a debut) comes out swingin' from the first bell and barely lets up. It cracks such a whiplash pace you'll need a sit-down and a cup of sugary tea. Opener "Beach Sluts" (yes, really) kicks down the front door in typically bullish style. Sixties girl group handclaps, stop-start rockabilly drums followed by a Mohican mosh pit speedball chorus. "I'm so lazy I won't believe in anything else," it spits amid a tsunami of hair, cigarettes 'n' cheap liquor. Nihilistic, trashy, degenerate ... and lovin' it. The 10 songs that follow buzz by in similarly impolite fashion – two-and-a half minute spurts loaded with chainsaw guitars, surf riffs and go-go dancer rhythms. It's the spirit of the Ramones: fast, furious and, yup, often ridiculous.

It's the first half though in particular that packs the toughest, Dirty Harry "D'ya feel lucky ... punk?" unflinching glare. "Back to the Grave" is the Dandy Warhols at their most swaggeringly cocky 'n' confident, whilst "This One's Different" is the Strokes with (wow!) an actual sense of humour and a side order of geek. "I need you ... right NOWWWWWW" demands doe-eyed beanpole and chief firestarter Jordan Gatesmith like some Little Lord Fauntleroy in rags. It's impossible not to be swept into its dorky, speedball rush which spins contagiously danceable in a slam-dancin', spit n' sawdust, "Did I lose a tooth?" way. It also prompts some serious foot on amp air-axe riffery. You're my guitar heroooo.

For such fresh-outta-diapers whippersnappers, they know their musical lineage, and, being youth gone wild, they pilfer with abandon. "America" shows they've been rifling through Grandpa's Duane Eddy and Link Wray as much as their Pa's Black Flag and Clash. It weaves a strong web of the constructive and the destructive, the dumb 'n' the smart. "A shotgun wedding at a quarter to five / I shot the husband and I'll sleep with the bride." Sch-mokin'! The centrepiece teardrop-tattoo "Too Much Blood" meanwhile is Lloyd Cole crooning the Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" and is the closest we get to a mirrorball slowdance. It is blackeyes, regrets and roses, backed by an alleycat Greek chorus of hobos and winos. A classy spark of reflection, it'll become a key witness for their defence. Elsewhere, the pretty, locomotion shuffle of "Free Drunk" echoes the wistful daydreamer nation of Sonic Youth at their most melodic before the cheerleaders-gone-bad holler of "Black Lagoon" closes the album in a haze of gunfire and a parting splash of Nirvana's Bleach.

What makes America more than Beavis & Butthead with a Backbeat is Howler's ability to lace their Molotovs with luscious, lemonade pop. Underneath the gravelly-voices and fake I.D. is a pop tart aching to breakout which makes the second side of America noticeably warmer. The two shiny, slick singles "Told You Once" and "Back of Your Neck" are pop gold. The skiffle-tastic former sees Elvis' "His Latest Flame" wrestling the Cure's "Close to Me" and rolls giddy with the joy, abandonment and reckless energy of youth. Its hedonist manifesto "I'll feel like shit tomorrow but I feel fine today" tips a knowing wink before surrendering into happy clapper deliriousness. "Back Of Your Neck" itself sounds like Pulp's "Babies" as performed by the once great white hopes, the Libertines. "You think we're Bonnie and Clyde / But both of them fucking died". It's charming, laugh-out-loud funny and the Matador bravado, stop-start dynamics prove Howler are one seriously tight band.

If it's a prerequisite for great Rock n' Roll – and AGU brushes great Rock n' Roll – that it must be equally loathed and loved, there is plenty to fan the flames here. Clearly, Gatesmith has the vocals of a loon. Jordan (who incidentally looks about 12 – does your Mother know you're out late?) frequents the James Osterberg School of Elocution for Ambitious Snarlers. Luckily he's in the business where this can be an advantage. He's got attitude 'n' ideas and one day son this'll all be yours and God help me, I'd rather have infinite Howler growlers than another "On a journey of self discovery" American Idol, sing-a-million-notes-when-one-will-do "vocalist". Howler will also likely suffer some heavy fire for their “magpie technique”, too, but hey it proves at least they've done their homework. The album sleeve is indefensible though, sorry chaps.

America Give Up finds rock 'n' roll in rude health. It's teenage kicks all through the night (alright!) and, just like real adolescence, it's bright-eyed, brash, feral, messy, full of testosterone, and often tipsy. But, hot diggety damn, it sure raises hell, meaning a lot of sensible folk will wanna live vicariously through this riotous debut (although probably not Vicars). As with all cheap thrills, AGU's delights may be fleeting and occasionally suffer a lack of depth, but hey in the era of "The New Boring" musical landscape, I'll take what I can get, thanks. Fans of chaos 'n' mayhem rejoice at the thought of the ensuing shitstorm that Howler wish to bring to your airbrushed ghost towns! Alongside the likes of the Horrors, Yuck and the Smith Westerns, there rumbles a burgeoning resistance to the dying of the rock 'n' roll light. In other words, comrades, we may still have a pulse.

7

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image