January is always a big month for new bands: the slew of ‘ones to watch’ lists and teenagers with pockets full of money from Santa means that the new year is a great time to make your mark. Rough Trade Records, then, have a guaranteed indie hit on their hands with Howler’s debut album America Give Up. The legendary label sent a representative out to America as soon as they heard the band’s demo, or so the story goes.
Much like Rough Trade, the band certainly has a whiff of the early noughties about them, with the grit of The Libertines, the cool of The Strokes and the lead singer Jordan Gatesmith appears to have the face and hair of Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell (there’s even a song on the record called ‘America’). Looking at the charts and the BBC Sound of 2012 poll, we are being fed the idea that guitar bands are becoming irrelevant. A spin of America Give Up will convince you otherwise.
The record struts into life with ‘Beach Sluts’, which has a slow surf-rock kind of sound but then unleashes an effervescent, explosive chorus; and we don’t slow down until ‘Too Much Blood’, a laidback and wistful slowie. And as soon as that’s over the tempo raises again with ‘Wailing (Making Out)’. At about half an hour long, America Give Up is a slip of a thing, but it doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed.
America Give Up sounds like a New York garage rock album with Phil Spector sheen, with Gatesmith’s vocals enigmatically obscured by a wall of rock and roll noise. The record features the kind of paradoxically self-interested yet nihilistic lyrics (“I wanna die young as a star” for example, on ‘Wailing (Making Out)’) that would sound like too-cool rubbish in the wrong hands, but Howler seem to be on the right side of cool without seeming too measured.
Howler don’t experiment wildly on America Give Up, they just do one thing really well, and sometimes that’s enough. After pop albums outsold rock albums for the first time in seven years last year, rock and roll needs some hope to cling onto, and it may as well be Howler. This is the first important record of 2012.
Good: Good old-fashioned rock and roll, with a facelift.
Bad: Lead singer is 19 years old, which makes me feel like Albert Steptoe in comparison.