Music

Howlin' Rain: Mansion Songs

Howlin' Rain strikes an unbalanced chord between calm and cacophony on fourth studio release.


Howlin' Rain

Mansion Songs

Label: Easy Sound
US Release Date: 2015-01-27
UK Release Date: Import
Online Release Date: 2015-01-27
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Indie rock outlet Howlin’ Rain’s latest release -- and the first of a trilogy, according to frontman Ethan Miller -- opens with nothing more than a little over 50 seconds of his own raw, bone-stingingly haunting vocals. A melancholy affair, Miller paints a nostalgic picture reflecting the days of roots rock gone by, imperfectly crooning “I’ve got $15 in my hand / If you gotten, we’ll be kinsmen to the stars.” When he hits the first unabashedly excoriated “Big Red Moon”, the band kicks in, inflecting the opening track of the same name with a poignant swampy flavor reminiscent of a Creedence Clearwater Revival a-side. Once you think you’ve hit a comfortable groove with the song, though, Miller unexpectedly comes in with an impassioned wail, reinventing the track’s craft in its twilight moments.

This type of artistic creativity is what put the band on the map in the first place, catering to the CCR and Bon Jovi-esque sounds of rock-and-roll’s golden age, but not without inflecting their tracks with their own troubadour sensibility. Much of this has to do directly with Miller’s aforementioned perfectly imperfect vocals, striking a Dylan-like chord, if Dylan were grittier and more overanxious. He is met more than often by his fellow bandmates on the album, however, with anthem-like backing vocals on tracks like “Meet Me in the Wheat” leading their compositions down the last driving mile.

Every now and again, Howlin’ Rain likes delivering a curveball. Without deterring from their anthemic overall sound, the band plays with a grandiose amount of alternative sonic routes throughout Mansion Songs. These include, but are most certainly not limited to, an impish, upbeat keyboard reminiscent of ‘60s pop-rock on “Wild Bush”, ethereal classical influences on “Lucy Fairchild”, and bouncy and effervescent Americana leanings on the vast “The New Age”. The fiddling and sudden melding of screaming vocals paired with jingle bells present on the third mentioned is especially impressive and representative of Howlin’ Rain’s ability to innovate. They can bring a track into utter chaos, yet restrain themselves just enough to where it manages to work.

On the overall, Mansion Songs is a solid first addition to what, according to Ethan Miller, will be a three piece set of albums for he and Howlin’ Rain. On the album, the band manages to continue their impressive streak of paying homage to classic rock tendencies while still remaining fresh by their own poetic means. With Miller’s off-kilter means of delivering a vocal, and with the album’s pacing being a bit on the slow side near its end with nearly twenty minutes of low-tempo tracks topping it off, Mansion Songs isn’t for everybody. However, what it is, is an almost surprisingly durable inclusion to Howlin’ Rain’s overarching collective of available albums, given the band's tumultuous history.

It is an inventive album that ends on an ominous note with the cockeyed spoken word musings of Miller leaving a lasting, yet unsure impression. Wherever the band is taking their sound as they transcend into the next album, Mansion Songs leaves enough of a fascinating blueprint that fans of the band will wonder where they’re headed next.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image