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Howling Bells - Radio Wars

Howling Bells, Radio Wars

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

ADMISSION… I’m a newcomer to Howling Bells, the Australian outfit that were tipped for greatness following the release of their eponymous debut album in 2006. So I had no expectation when listening to their long-awaited sophomore effort Radio Wars.

And judging by the reaction from some critics, I’m the lucky one. For while many have bemoaned the lack of progress, or even the backward step taken by Juanita Stein and co, I’ve whole-heartedly embraced the comeback. Radio Wars is a great listen, which builds on the success of the singles that have so far been named IndieLondon records of the week (Cities Burning Down and Into The Chaos).

Produced by Dan Grech-Marguerat and embracing elements of epic indie rock, shoegaze melancholia and a little psychedelia, it’s a gutsy return that should place them firmly in the public’s affection where their debut got largely overlooked in the throng of Arctic Monkeys mania.

First and foremost, Stein’s majestic vocals are the primary reason for tuning in. Their big, bold, sonically heightened and utterly distinctive. Yet she can trade the boldness for moments of tranquility and tenders, with songs like Nightingale providing a nice counter-balance to the bigger, more sprawling efforts such as Treasure Hunt.

There’s a hint, occasionally, of The Cardigans in some of her vocals, as well as the Divinyls at others… but they’re backed by some really stirring guitar work and backing vocals to enrich the overall sound.

Nightingale, for instance, augments the melancholy tenderness of Stein’s vocals with some haunting background vocals and imperious guitar work late on. It’s one of the album’s highlights outside of the singles.

Cities Burning Down, meanwhile, is just a really great piece of songwriting (and let’s say PJ Harvey-esque, vocally). It boasts a haunted, slow-burning, cinematic quality, and gradually builds into the smouldering, glittering anthem in waiting that it will soon be recognised as being.

Let’s Be Kids is another strong offering, reflecting what every adult probably secretly wishes, while Ms Bell’s Song is a lazy, hazy piece of folksy music, and Golden Web makes good use of a girl-boy vocal trade off and some sinister guitar loops and synths.

Closing track How Long draws things to a close in suitably impressive fashion to ensure that, for this critic at least, Howling Bells’ return is a resounding success.

Download picks: Cities Burning Down, Nightingale, Golden Web, Into The Chaos

Track listing:

  1. Treasure Hunt
  2. Cities Burning Down
  3. It Ain’t You
  4. Nightingale
  5. Let’s Be Kids
  6. Ms Bell’s Song
  7. Radio Wars Theme
  8. Golden Web
  9. Into The Chaos
  10. Digital Hearts
  11. How Long

  1. Y’know this is an intelligent review. Im sick of the lamentors who pine for the earlier album recorded under the Bella Union label who I feel did their best to keep that masterpiece a secret. This album is also a masterpiece if you listen a few times. Name me anyone who’s doing any better music and I’ll eat my hat….

    Peter Sydney    Mar 3    #