Howler came to the attention of many back in 2011 with their five-track debut EP, This One’s Different. Since its release, there has been a steady build-up of anticipation, with many publications acclaiming the Minneapolis five-piece as the next big American guitar band, drawing comparisons with other great Stateside rock bands, in particular, The Strokes and Television. While it’s undoubtedly a compliment to be mentioned alongside such names, there is always the concern of being labelled as “just another rip-off” – a status that has laid waste to many good bands.
Howler’s debut album, entitled America Give Up, should ensure that they don’t fall by the wayside like so many others before them. From the offset, Howler set the tone for what’s to follow, with the sun-kissed, shimmering riff opening of Beach Sluts, which then bursts into a furious, punk-infused brawler. This One’s Different – one of two songs to make the album from the band’s EP of the same name – features one of those insatiable guitar riffs that will grab you instantly, as frontman Jordan Gatesmith does his best indifferent, throaty growl. Like The Vaccines before them, Howler’s music is uncomplicated, but also highly contagious. There is barely a song over three minutes throughout the album, as the band concentrate their energies on concise, thrashing garage rock.
The longest track on America Give Up, Too Much Blood, allows the five-piece to build up several layers of guitars, creating a sheer wall-of-sound that almost drowns out Gatesmith’s vocals. It may differ in tempo compared to the rest of the album, but the emphasis is still on fuzzy, lo-fi noise. And lots of it. Take Pythagorean Fearem, for example; at just a shade over two minutes, it’s a brisk, frothing-at-the-mouth, riff-heavy track that doesn’t mess around with any formalities. Instead, it satisfies itself with being gloriously rabble-rousing, and quite simply, mindless fun.
Back Of Your Neck sees Howler flirt with the sound of The Drums, another band hailing from America who were regarded as the “next big thing” in 2010. The ‘ooohs’ combined with a beach-pop riff gives the song unmistakable similarity to the Brooklyn-based band, who – after being majorly hyped – were essentially forgotten after their debut album had dropped. Howler manage to pull it off, though. Told You Once returns to the fast-paced, adrenaline filled rock that opened the record, as Gatesmith howls: “I wish that there was something I could do, because I hate myself more than I hate you.”
It’s not flawless, though. Back To The Grave is a rather drab affair, with inaudible vocals mumbled over unremarkable guitars that barely make it out of first gear. While Free Drunk also plods along aimlessly, missing the raw energy that made the band’s early singles so incredibly addictive. Yet they are merely minor blips.
Howler, when at their best, produce simple, but infectious, dirty rock music that oozes confidence and a nonchalant swagger. America Give Up shows that the commotion surrounding Howler was not all empty promises. For the most part, it’s a confident debut album, one that is jam-packed with raucous, ready-made hits. 2012 looks set to be a big year for Howler; however, the big question now is whether they can establish themselves after the critical clamour dies down. On this evidence, they are more than capable of doing just that.