Loudest Engine Import
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Howling Bells will release their new album on September 12th on Cooking Vinyl. Recorded in Las Vegas with The Killers Mark Stoermer producing, The Loudest Engine will be preceded by a clutch of live shows, including a London date at the Electric Ballroom on September 15th. A raw, psychedelic third studio album, and the sequel to 2009's Radio Wars, the recording of The Loudest Engine saw Howling Bells, the Australian-formed, London-based four piece comprising singer/ guitarist Juanita Stein and her brother Joel (lead guitarist), drummer Glenn Moule, and bassist Brendan Picchio - forge a sonic union with Nevada's expansive surroundings and Las Vegas's street-soiled vibe. Howling Bells' desert sessions were the final part of a year-long writing adventure that saw the band, on their own tours and with the likes of Coldplay and The Killers, wander through strange American outposts and seedy European back streets in their downtime. Their travels provided endless lyrical inspiration; much of The Loudest Engine was written on the road. It was on the road that Howling Bells first linked with The Killers' Mark Stoermer. Touring together, the two groups bonded over their love of similar music; so, when Howling Bells began planning the recording of their latest project at the tail end of summer 2010, The Killers' bassist was the first person they called. With Stoermer at the dials, Howling Bells worked with a creative spirit they'd not channeled previously. They'd already worked up 30 fresh demos, but in The Killers' Battle Born studio in Nevada, these sketches were fleshed out, given new muscle. The result is 12 songs that burn with a ferocious intensity, clipping garage blues (Charlatan) to end of the world freak outs (The Wilderness) and heart-bruised laments (Into The Sky). This is an album Howling Bells were eager to make. Says Stein of the album, There's a singular sound which is more folk and rock than our last two albums, but it's interpreted in a modern sense. It wasn't a conscious effort to make a '70s tinged record. It was a very natural progression. "The album shows that we're we're 21st century kids making a modern psychedelic record. [It] is our grown up record. The first was about that great initial leap, the second was us exploring different waters. This one is us, all having met at one place, at one time. I think this record will change people's perspectives of the band."
When Sydney's Howling Bells relocated to London to hook up with British producer Ken Nelson and record their self-titled debut album in 2005, the result was a chaotic and stirring jumble of styles. Juanita Stein's vocals jolted imperiously against her brother Joel's spiny guitar licks, introducing a blend of Victorian folk and Bront?an glower to the band's driving rock'n'roll, like The Unthanks with riffs. It was an exciting first statement from a band that was, like so many others, attempting the Herculean feat of reviving the past and remoulding it for the present. Unfortunately, Howling Bells' synth-tinged follow-up Radio Wars and now The Loudest Engine haven't quite been able to recapture the sultry fire lit by their debut. The former was an experiment in electro textures that some appreciated more than others. But the worrying thing about the band's latest album is that, on paper, it bears all the hallmarks of a genuine stab at returning to the twisted folk-rock drawing board, and from that perspective it seems to fail as much as it succeeds.
At first it's difficult to pinpoint exactly where The Loudest Engine strays off course. Certainly, the band's chemistry is still intact on the album's finest moments: lead single Into the Sky is fully laden with momentum and hooks, Stein's voice stalking across the track like a hungry lioness, perfectly in sync with the band's growling rock'n'roll. The Wilderness is another rollicking number, its concluding guitar squall perfectly capturing the twitchy frustration brought on by the song's subject, insomnia; and closing track Invisible's deep, doleful guitar arpeggio elicits the same sense of unease as some of the band's best early tracks.
The fundamental problem seems to lie in Howling Bells' relocation to the Nevada desert (and their partnership with first-time producer Mark Stoermer of The Killers) to record the album. The claustrophobic menace of the band's debut fit them like a glove, but the widescreen, dust-flecked stylings of their latest effort feel laboured and, at worst, contrived. On the likes of Charlatan, The Faith and the title-track, the Steins aim to take the best of vintage acid rock, but all they resemble is sonic tourists in a foreign land, and the less said about the Kate Bush-aping misstep of Gold Suns, White Guns, the better.
By trying to interpret a whole new landscape and atmosphere, Howling Bells have compromised their strengths in an awkward attempt to force themselves into a new style. Instead of capturing the essence of the dusty trail, on this album they are struggling just to avoid the middle of the road.
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Top Customer Reviews
Yes their first album was really rather exceptional (after I got over my initial flashback to aspects of Throwing Muses) and I must admit i was less taken with the second but this third effort is cracking.
It has charm, humour and lovely guitar work. There is also a certain amount of freedom to explore and Juanita Stein's voice is really rather blossoming with great self harmonisation and slanted delivery which draws in your ear. A couple of tracks see some near duet delivery with i assume) her brother guitarist - very slight shades of The Magic Numbers pop feel to these.
Overall, much of their original stealth and singular energy has been alloyed with greater musicianship and elegance. I'd be very keen to hear much of this live as their debut at latitude was a fantastic sunset experience.
For the unfamiliar, Into The Sun is a great launching point with near absurd squealing guitars and great percussive gusto.
The second album came and I've learnt recently, for my surprise, that people didn't like it and it was kind of a let down. I didn't share that opinion at the time, and I liked the songs (most of them). But today is clear for me that I, myself did not enjoyed it too much, specially if you consider how many times I have listened to it compared to the first album. I even forgot to "wait for the next album"...
But then 2011 arrive and they get back with this wonderful piece! I absolutely loved it. It reminds me of their debut, different places, peculiar moods, delicious vocals... but there are new elements to this too. Now they are living in London for a while so it had influenced them, their songs are a mix of desert landscapes with some cosmopolitan clouds on it.
All the 12 songs are great, and if this was a vinyl, I'd say the side B is my favorite. And if there is any flaw with the album is that some of the songs could be longer... yes, longer.
Do yourself a favor and BUY this record NOW! And if anyone in the band read this, PLEASE come to Brazil!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a noisy, boring mess. The first album was great; the second (Radio Wars) was good with moments of great; this one is on my charity-shop pile. What a disappointment. Read morePublished on 14 Feb. 2012 by A. Smith