An album of mashed-up half ideas...
Jon Bye

13:58 2nd March 2009

The return of Aussie sultry gloom darlings, Howling Bells, has been a while coming. You may remember their self entitled debut hitting our shores in 2006.

On the back of this and some major hype, the Bells quickly established themselves as a firm favourite with festival connoisseurs thanks to their sprawling dream-like soundscapes, huge haunting guitar parts and seductive vocals that still give me ghostly flash backs of mud and cider.  So it’s to the band's detriment that some of the qualities that made their debut so good have not translated clearly onto 'Radio Wars'.

There's clear reasoning for this. In recent interviews, singer Juanita Stein has admitted that for this album she relinquished complete creative control. And this has resulted in a mixed bag of songs in a confusing variety of directions. The meandering pitch of 'Nightingale' vaguely feels as gargantuan as songs of old, while 'Cities Burning Down' and 'Ms Bell's Song' both hint at the epic presence of the vocals. Yet, it takes until 'Into the chaos' and 'Digital Hearts', both at the end of the album, before the old formula takes shape again.

This is a sad state of affairs for a band who are used to nailing it every time. And even with good 'uns can’t make up for the inane lyrics “I've been bitten by a spider” on 'Golden Web' or the general minimalist folk sound that pervades the record, ruining the band's expansive sound.

While there are some nice tracks here, the areas of full enjoyment are too few and far between for this to be classed a good record. There's clearly been too many hands on the helm and what should have been a refreshingly somber and powerful follow up has turned into an album of mashed-up half ideas. A clear lesson is here – if you're doing something right, don't stop to question yourself.

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