Howler just wants to have fun.
Forget about all the comparisons to The Strokes or the hype-factor that NME and various music blogs have perpetuated. They’re just down to have a good time—or at least with song titles like “Free Drunk” and “Beach Sluts,” it seems like that’s what they want us to think.
However, when asked about musical influences behind their band in 2010 by NME, frontman Jordan Gatesmith admitted that they did, in fact, have an agenda behind all their music: “There’s not really been a great rock record, or even a punk record, in ages. I keep hearing a lot of witch house stuff, chillwave, shoegazey keyboards with Casio drums. But not rock, so we wanted to make it dirty rock ‘n’ roll.” Although I’d love to point Gatesmith to a few recent records, since The Strokes now make hip indie music like that mentioned by Gatesmith, what’s the harm in picking up the slack a bit?
That was my thought going into America Give Up and with that mindset intact, there’s a lot here to like. The album opens with “Beach Sluts,” a delightful little tune that goes back and forth between some really chill verses that reminded me of songs off Surfer Blood’s 2011 EP and an unexpected high-octane punk-pop chorus that seemingly comes from nowhere. Howler saves the real gems for later on in the album though. “Told You Once” and “Back Of Your Neck” feel like instant singles and are surely catchy enough to stay around all year. In particular, “Back Of Your Neck” features a falsetto hook so memorable and confident that it might as well have been taken right out of an Arcade Fire song.
Most of the songs on America Give Up come from the same litter of layered guitars, scraggly vocals and fuzzy mixes—and for the most part, Howler really makes the sound likable again. You won’t find any deep philosophical musings or much experimentation with their sound at all. Because of that, there are definitely songs here that get lost in the flow of the album. In fact, I sometimes had a hard time listening to the album straight through in one sitting—but not because it was too long. Like the work of the bands that Howler is trying to imitate here, the 11 three-minute songs fly by, but I found that the album functions much more enjoyably as a collection of singles to visit in short spurts.
Some will certainly argue that their lyrics are full of cliches and that their style is an unashamed ripoff. While I don’t deny it, as I listened to America Give Up I found myself not really minding much—after all, Howler seems to be okay with it themselves. It’s not as if Howler is some corporate creation that’s stealing someone’s music to make a quick buck off you. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Despite the fact that there is a lot riding on a release as anticipated as this one, most of the time Howler sounds like they don’t even realize it—and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.