Howling Bells - Heartstrings
Since unveiling their dark, bluesy rock with 2006's self-titled debut, Howling Bells have released a further two strong studio efforts that, whilst interesting to fans, have failed to set the wider world alight. The band's fourth album is their shortest at just over thirty minutes, running to just ten songs and with only a few tracks advancing past the three minute mark. This brevity is explained by a newfound sense of urgency, as if the Bells are out to prove that, eight years on, they still deserve to be considered a serious proposition.
Never ones to shy away from guitars, here they rock harder, faster and louder. Their wall of sound approach has never been better exemplified than on 'Reverie', while 'Possessed' reverses the quiet-verses/loud-chorus template with Juanita Stein channelling the rock chick lineage atop crunchy, battering-ram guitars and drums, before a wistful chorus provides a sweet tonic. She remains the band's primary calling card, the 'X factor' element that makes it all the more surprising that they haven't found a larger audience. On 'Slowburn' though, Stein sounds confident that "something's gonna happen someday" and it's hard to disagree considering the lean ease of an album that disarms the listener in such a short time.
Nestled amongst the bigger numbers jostling for attention is a middle section that showcases the band's softer side. 'Euphoria' is shimmery folk that bursts into a dream-pop kaleidoscope halfway through, while 'Paper Heart' is the band at their most stripped-back ever with Juanita's vocal paired with little more than piano. Some nice left-turn discordant chords make it an interesting little cut. 'Tornado' deepens the gothic Americana menace of their debut (an achievement considering the group are Australian), and 'Your Love' is slower and sweet without turning down the noise, sounding like Joy Division's 'Atmosphere' layered with extra My Bloody Valentine guitars and cinematic reverb.
With a switch in label and line-up (original bassist Brendan Picchio left last year), it's great to hear that these changes have reinvigorated the band and not fractured it. On the title track, Stein assures the object of her affection - and us, the listener (same difference) - that "love doesn't destroy, it creates"; considering this, Heartstrings can be read as a love letter created for the cult fans that were around for 'Setting Sun' and for anyone only just starting to nurture a crush for their new favourite band.