HOWLING BELLS – Radio Wars (Independiente)

It is three years since Aussie four-piece Howling Bells’ debut, and in that time their gothic overtones have become more mainstream with bands like White Lies and The Horrors making it fashionable again. Consequently the Bells have had a rethink and come up with a slightly more commercial sound, while still retaining the stylish songwriting of the band coupled with the exquisite vocals of Juaninta Stein. ‘Treasure Hunt’ ushers in the album with some Cocteau Twins vocal/guitar interplay, and a sweeping production which gives the song a soaring quality. ‘Cities Burning Down’ has a thudding Joy Division drum sound, imbuing it with a suitably apocalyptic feel, and ‘It Ain’t You’ has a catchy enough chorus to make it a contender for the next single. ‘Nightingale’ is a tender ballad which still retains a gothic undertone that gives it an edge without which it might have sounded a bit bland. ‘Let’s Be Kids’ is another commercial offering, which goes nicely with the lyric of wishing for a return to the more simple times of childhood. ‘Ms. Bell’s Song’ is a pleasant little ballad, but when it leads into the chanted ‘Theme From Radio Wars’ it turns into something a bit stranger. ‘Golden Web’ is a spooky slow-burner, and has the intriguing use of a male vocal to end each line of the chorus, which sounds odd on first hearing but is quickly accepted. Lead single ‘Into The Chaos’ is a driving slice of goth/pop and a fine introduction to the band for those who have yet to sample the Bells’ work. ‘How Long’ (three minutes 22 seconds if you must know) is a great country-tinged slowie, and closing track ‘To L.A.’ is one of their most atmospheric offerings, and the most obvious hark back to their debut. I am sure that fans of the band will not be disappointed with this effort, and the commercial sheen on some of the songs will hopefully bring in a new legion of admirers.
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