PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Lupine Howl: The Bar at the End of the World

Devon Powers

Lupine Howl

The Bar at the End of the World

Label: Beggars Banquet
US Release Date: 2003-02-04
UK Release Date: 2002-10-14

Lupine Howl are over the top. Their moniker is peculiar, severe; their album titles, obscure and potentially off-putting (The Carnivorous Lunar Activities of Lupine Howl, anyone?). It's as if, at every moment, they're striving for extremes -- total excellence or utter shit, gold medal or the piss-stinking gutter. Ever since the band formed after Spiritualized's Jason Pierce went on a firing spree in 1999, guitarist Mike Mooney and bassist Sean Cook have been creating musical life from destruction -- or, perhaps, destroying the only things in music worth living for. (On their debut, they did this with ex-Spiritualized drummer Damon Reece, though John Mattock appears on their latest offering.)

True to form, The Bar at the End of the World is an all or nothing album. From its first moment, it is bombastic, pompous, obscure to the point of disturbing. Through and through, it hits dead on and completely misses, sometimes doing both in the same stroke. These wild oscillations of likeability, from any other artist, might be understood as crazed or indicative of stellar, but untamed, talent; from Lupine Howl, it's just par for the course. This is a band that wants you to feel something every time -- whether ecstasy or nausea, excitement or boredom.

Opening the album is the hyperbolic "A Grave to Go To", a blood-thick, guitar-heavy blazer that showcases Lupine Howl's penchant for psych-influenced, soulful rock. Starting like a runner out of the gate, the guitars unfurl in spooky riffs followed by equally dark bass lines. Cook spits out the lyrics like they're poisoned venom -- the story told about a missing girl whose is suspected to be an unidentified corpse. Sure, the topic's a bit gross, but the song is fantastic -- huge, confident, ambitious.

After this searing beginning, the album slows down considerably, never again catching the momentum of "A Grave to Go To" and often deadening into a dirge. The immediately following "Don't Lose Your Head" is a spaced-out shuffle, sounding as blitzed as the narration: "I never really had much money / But what I did have I spent on cocaine / I may be lost but I'm not worried / Ain't life strange". It's quite a letdown from the previous number, and not just because the tempo has been emasculated -- the pace also shows off the hollow, sometimes painfully awful, lyrics. It's the kind of song that might sound so deep to someone who, as Cook sings, is "so high". The clever closing lyric ("We all do things we hate to get things we don't need") hardly makes up for what is just a dull song.

The rest of the album stays on the slow side, with mixed degrees of success. "The Pursuit of Pleasure" is a sultry, sticky mess of a song, its opening bars mimicking what you might expect to hear as you step foot into a sleazy bordello somewhere off the interstate. It stays that way until the climactic, hell-on-wheels chorus: "I just wanna / Control my lover" slithering seductively out of Cook's mouth, the volume overcharged, the drums cacophonous and gigantic. It's not musical rocket science, but it is gorgeously drenching melodrama. It ends, with splendid pomp, on Cook wailing, "I wanna feel alive", atop ballistic six-string fury. But when this theater translates into something less charged, it just sounds silly. Like the next song: "Gravity's Pull". Barren guitar work and flabby strings render the song a flaccid, vacant lullaby.

One thing I can say for Lupine Howl -- they always try. As much as they work within well-tred Britrock traditions, their haunted outlook on life tarts up even the most standard of melodies. Granted, it doesn't always work, but this reviewer remains faithful that someday, one of their albums will stun. Either that, or scare the hell out of you.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.