Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: Air, Bella Union, Coldplay, Dan Grech-Marguerat, howling bells, Independiente Label, indie, Juanita Stein, Ken Nelson, Paul McCartney, PJ Harvey, radio wars, Radiohead
PREVIEW: Download Howling Bells “How Long”
Hundreds of bands rise to the surface each year. Many dominate major music festivals, while a handful even get a record deal or produce highly-acclaimed albums, knocking the critics off their feet. That’s precisely what Howling Bells did when they took the indie scene by storm in 2006 with their self-titled debut released on Bella Union, produced by none other than Ken Nelson of Coldplay.
Finally Howling Bells are gracing their fans with a sophomore effort, Radio Wars. The album will hit stores in the U.S. and Canada on July 28th, 2009, though it’s been circulating on the other end of the pond since March. It seems that this is the year Howling Bells will be leaving their most memorable mark on the indie music industry. Not only have they joined London-based label, Independiente, they had Dan Grech-Marguerat (who’s worked with Radiohead, Air, Paul McCartney) produce Radio Wars.
The new album is quite an evolution for the band. Their debut was full of folk- and blues-charged melodies that flung listeners back a few decades, while Radio Wars does the contrary. It submerges you in incredibly melodic, futuristic songs which make you feel like you just went for a walk on the moon.
On Radio Wars, the band experiment with edgier and sharper sounds, clearly a step forward from their first release. The lead track, “Treasure Hunt,” is so radically different that it makes you double check whether you are listening to Howling Bells at all. Yet it is just a taste of the haunting deliciousness laced throughout the album. “The Cities Burning Down,” the band’s next single, is nothing short of bewitching. With a rather mellow intro, it steadily escalates into a full-blown, out-of-this world production.
“It Ain’t You” and “Nightingale” are the tracks that turn this album into a pinnacle of moody harmony. The band’s most important asset, Juanita Stein’s voice, finds its perfect fit in the track “It Ain’t You.” Her deeply soulful vocals charge every song with a shot of perfection,without which the album would not be the same.
Something we can be sure of is that the band members are in accord on this record. Howling Bells achieve a near-perfect balance in each song. That fact is evident in “Nightingale,” arguably the best track on the album. The song is full of sad and melancholy notes that almost immediately sink into the depth of your soul. It is a dark and moving lullaby that sounds like something you may have heard growing up, given you were PJ Harvey’s offspring.
However, there are a few misses, such as “Let’s Be Kids” and “Ms. Bell’s Song (Radio Wars Theme).” Individually these tracks fall short, but they are necessary and essential to the overall unity of the album.
On the track “Digital Hearts,” the band tap into the rock ‘n’ roll rhythm that made Howling Bells such a success, but primarily it serves as a mere transition to the sensational final track, “How Long.” This song can only be described as an epic lament with the potential to tear the listener apart. An instant classic, it is a perfect finale to a very satisfying album.
Overall Radio Wars definitely doesn’t disappoint, and is an extremely worthy follow up to a successful debut, even if it took three years to get here.
– Irina Dvalidze