Considering that the Howling Bells hail from Australia, it would take a brave person to guess at their home towns by listening to their debut album. It's full of dark Americana, a perverse soundtrack to a David Lynch film, Juanita Stein's velvety smooth vocals floating over a rush of guitars and drums that veer between My Bloody Valentine-esque drones to PJ Harvey rock n roll stomps.
They wear their influences on their sleeves but the record is full of twists and turns it's hard to pin one sound on them. Each track has it's only peculiar feel, it's own set of dark little secrets that will only unveil themselves after repeated listens. In fact when I first played this I was a little disappointed after hearing the fantastic single Wishing Stone, which is possibly the best song PJ Harvey has never recorded. However, after giving the album more time, it seemed to breathe; to almost unfurl like a blossoming flower, unveiling more delicacies hidden away inside.
Velvet Girl is the real oddity here; densely packed guitars that Kevin Shields would love to have orchestrated, this is definitely David Lynch territory and wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Mulholland Drive soundtrack - there's a hint at something deeply sinister here, of something that might look clean and pure on the surface but is really rotting from the inside. Setting Sun is a gorgeous slice of indie-rock, the guitars chiming along with Rein's high and smooth vocals, the influence of producer Ken Nelson's Coldplay background channelling the band to an epic conclusion to the song. We're then jolted back to earth with the blues stomp of Blessed Night with it's dirty background riff balancing out those impressive vocals again, her voice can move between a contemptuous growl to an angelic soar over a matter of words.
The only thing that does disappoint is the lyrics. They're very generic and don't really hint at anything more profound hiding away behind the brooding music. In fact some credit must go to produce Ken Nelson for channelling their ideas to create something with a singular vision, though his Coldplay roots are certainly apparently, the guitars have that high pitch clarity that Coldplay made their own.
But there is something achingly beautiful about this record, it's hard not to get sucked into those riffs once they've found their way into your head and you'll find yourself following their path down the dark side of rock n roll.