Howler remind me of a modern version of The Clash. A version of The Clash that is a throwback to ’60s punk rock energy while embracing the sensibility of modern indie rock. They’re not hardcore enough to be a punk band nor obscure enough to be an indie rock band. Instead, they’re what one would call indie punk.
Howler aptly named their second record World of Joy. The album lifts even the blackest of moods. I am reviewing this after a frustrating few hours of playing Dark Souls. Anybody who is familiar with this game will tell you that it crushes your soul and leaves you wallowing in self pity. I decided to give Howler a listen after this and I was immediately in a better mood. Their fierce punk energy combined with the upbeat tempo of indie rock blows away the darkest of storm clouds. (Not literal storm clouds though. I did try.)
The album is kicked off by a few seconds of drummer Rory MacMurdo playing on the cymbals and then the song bursts into a rousing guitar riff that gets stuck in your head. “Al’s Corral” is the mood-setter and almost establishes the atmosphere of the record. It immediately puts the listener in some dive bar where the band is performing this record in its entirety. It showcases the indie punk energy of the band and the tremendous lyricism and vocal abilities of Jordan Gatesmith.
“Drip” sees Howler’s ’60s-inspired punk rock energy fully unleashed. It is a short and fast-paced song filled with snarling guitars and rapid drumming. It was written about guitarist Ian Nygaard, who is constantly coming down with illnesses while on tours.
“Don’t Wanna” is one of my personal favourite songs off the album. It sees a balance between punk rock lyricism and mellow indie rock instrumentals. The lyrics reflect a culture that is meant to be freeing but is in fact damaging in nature. Lyrics like “You don’t have to be a punk if you don’t want to/ You don’t even have to date girls if you don’t want to” reflect Gatesmith’s brilliant writing skills, and are my personal favourites.
“Yacht Boy” and “In the Red” maintain a sound that belongs in a garage in the ’60s with angsty teens aggressively jamming their hearts out. At the same time, the songs maintain a modern sheen to them and are packed full of energy. This energy is tempered into an ominous and brooding energy in “World of Joy”. A rather ironic name for a song as it doesn’t provoke feelings of joyfulness.
Fear not, for “Louise” injects a healthy dose of indie punk energy into your ears to kick up the tempo. It is an upbeat song yet at the same time, it is incredibly cheesy if you just listen to the lyrics. Despite this, there is a sense of bitterness within the song when you extract the lyrics: “Lousie, I want to say I love you / but I know that is not enough.”
“Here’s the Itch That Creeps Through My Skull” has a brooding indie rock feel at its heart. It’s even as obscure as indie rock comes, with Gatesmith stating in the track-by-track that it is a song that sums up the band’s statement and that it is about stealing. Doesn’t yield much of a clue as to what the song is about so I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
“Indictment” launches back into a fierce indie punk energy. It is Howler’s final burst of energy before launching into the gentle lull that is the closing track “Aphorismic Wasteland Blues”. They make an astute observation that a wasteland can be mournful.
Howler managed to produce a bitterly ironic album. The instrumentals encourage feelings of joy but it seems that the lyrics were created for bitter cynics, much like myself. The throwback to ’60s punk rock makes my punk heart bleed and the indie rock nature appeals to my aural senses. World of Joy is a brilliant effort and is indie punk at its best.