At Radio 1's weekend in Dundee...
Janne Oinonen

11:25 15th May 2006

How often are you informed of the imminent arrival of yet another earth-shatteringly brilliant, extremely important band of truly superhuman capabilities that will Change! Your! Life! Forever! Monthly? Weekly? Daily? More often? Well, scrap that cynicism, erase those painful memories of the non-entities you were tricked to waste your hard-earned dough on and pay attention, for Howling Bells just might have what it takes to back up each and every ludicrous claim of excellence thrown about amidst the swathe of superlatives that accompanies the arrival of their self-titled debut.

Although every bit as rock ‘n’ roll as the none-more-rock name of singer-guitarist Juanita Stein, whose intoxicating vocals, which bend from hard-ass snarl to prettiest cooing with effortless ease are the first thing that floors you here, Howling Bells thankfully steer clear of the dumb-ass rawk revivalism of some of the other recent high-profile Australian musical exports. Instead, the four-piece cook up an alluring mix of goth’s black-is-the-colour murkiness, the hazy daydream doziness of shoegazing, the sizzle and stomp of high-octane garage rock, the sugar-sweet thrills of candyfloss girl-group pop and a shot or two of the twang-fuelled heartbreak of classic country balladry.

The atmospheric results have been dubbed indie noir, which is highly appropriate, although there are few signs of ‘classic’ indie rock’s air of snobbish insularity and intentional underachievement here. Rather than hankering after the cult status of some of their inspirations (Jesus & The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and the Velvet Underground are most likely integral parts of the band’s record collections), Howling Bells clearly aim to enlist as many willing listeners as possible to their dark-hued cause. Or at least it’s difficult to presume otherwise from the stellar quality of these 12 tunes and the enlistment of Coldplay knob-twiddler Ken Nelson, who ingests the swooning ‘Setting Sun’ with massive muscular dynamics worthy of U2, albeit with every iota of their chest-beating bombast and stadium-sized overstatement removed and replaced with pure haunting class.

Elsewhere, from the blasting bombardment of low-slung riffage fit for PJ Harvey on ‘Low Happening’ and the clattering, sinister crawl of ‘Blessed Night’ to the aching, stratospheric chorus of ‘Broken Bones’, Howling Bells combine the dark and the brooding with the feather-light and the poppy with riveting results that resemble following a candy trail through the weird nocturnal dangers of an enchanted forest.

Cool without once resorting to superficial, hollow posing, stylish yet never less than substantial and practically oozing with undeniable star quality, Howling Bells – the band and the album – deserve, no, demand to be huge.

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