Howler – ‘America Give Up’

This is rock'n'roll and it's exactly what the world needs

The best thing to have happened to [a]Howler[/a] in their short lifespan occurred on December 4, 2011. This was the day on which the BBC Sound Of 2012 poll was announced, and they were not in it. In July, their inclusion in this and other such lists had seemed certain, thanks to ‘I Told You Once’’s gruff, distinctive vocal and audaciously pilfered Elvis Presley riff – ‘(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame’ – not to mention its colourful video set in a school gym full of dancing girls, which made full use of Jordan Gatesmith’s doe eyes and very good hair. One of the other tunes on the subsequent (and great) ‘This One’s Different’ EP was entitled ‘You Like White Women. I Like Cigarettes’. It was all exciting and fun; a bright future seemed certain.

The latter few months, though, have not quite brought the pandemonium suggested. A couple of ‘buzz’ gigs in London were busy – and brilliant – but nowt like [a]The Vaccines[/a] at the Flowerpot the year previous where all present (plus a lot who weren’t) decided this was the band who were gonna own 2011. Most likely, The Vaccines may be why those “180 industry tastemakers” or whoever it is decided to omit Howler – without question, one of the best new guitar bands on the planet – from the Sound Of 2012 poll in favour of hip-hop and dubstep which makes them all feel more sophisticated and eclectic. Also, clearly, haircuts are not important this year, or else [a]Skrillex[/a] and that truly appalling chop would never have made the longlist.

But, like I said, this is great for Howler, and for rock’n’roll. Because it doesn’t need to be about hype. Those who get it will get it, and they now can enjoy the band without an endless stream of idiots – spying the Converse and the fact they’re on Rough Trade – writing Howler off as being derivative or quite a lot like [a]The Strokes[/a]. True or not, the story about how Rough Trade got on a plane to Howler’s native Minneapolis the minute they heard the demos is a fantastic one. That’s exactly how the rock’n’roll business should be done.

As Howler themselves put it on the title track of ‘This One’s Different’: “When the feeling is there, then it’s there”. You should just know. And, given a singer who is so obviously a star, plus a debut album called ‘America Give Up’ whose artwork rips off a Lucky Strike cig packet and which opens with a song called ‘Beach Sluts’ that sounds like The Modern Lovers and peaks with such a joyous, sped-up ending, how can you not? Just in case: there’s another called ‘Wailing (Making Out)’ that features the lines “I wanna get dressed, make a scene” and then “I wanna girl and a new car/I need a drink and a guitar”.

In mid-November, Howler promised to make “a dirty rock’n’roll” album, which is exactly what they’ve done, without any fluff. All 11 songs are full of energy, wit, fun, fuzz, fizz, sugar, spice and all things nice. The two songs from ‘This One’s Different’ (the title track and the still glorious ‘I Told You Once’) have been re-recorded and made even more high-octane; there’s another superlative pop song, complete with “woo-woo-woo-woooo”s, in the shape of ‘Back Of Your Neck’. ‘Back To The Grave’ swaggers rather than skips, propelled by deliciously sludgy guitars. There are ‘Too Much Blood’ and ‘Free Drunk’, which demonstrate that Howler can do romantic slowies. ‘Black Lagoon’ finds Jordan spelling out the title, but doing it as “B-L-A-C-K-L-A-G Oooooooh… Oooooooh… N!

Hell, they’ve even managed to write a song called ‘America’ and not make it a load of self-righteous, preachy shit. Which, to my knowledge, is a first. ‘America Give Up’ is, quite simply, an effortlessly brilliant debut. Maybe it isn’t the wider world’s time to fall in love with a straight-up guitar band, but I couldn’t give a monkey’s, and neither should you.

Hamish MacBain

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