It's 1991 all over again, or at least it feels that way when listening to this fun, shoegazer-worshipping self-titled debut from Australia's Howling Bells. The album's 12 tracks owe a huge debt to Slowdive and just about every 4AD band circa 1990. But for every distorted guitar and hummed harmony, there's an equal dose of Americana twang in singer Juanita Stein's delivery; and thus perhaps the group exhausted their Mojave 3 collection as well. There's no doubt that "In the Woods" is an homage to Neil Halstead, and at least half the tracks are aimed distinctly at the radio. Coldplay producer Ken Nelson adds the heavy smattering of commercial bombast, particularly in the Chris Martin-esque "The Night Is Young," which borrows structural elements from and blatantly steals the climactic guitar conclusion of "Yellow." Catchy melodies and killer hooks borrow themselves in one's brain after repeat listens, but shallow subject matter, often goofy rhyming lyrics, and a heavy-handed use of falsetto sometimes sidetrack the album as a whole. The single "Low Happening" is nearly irresistibly catchy, but cringe-worthy lyrics bring it down, and "Broken Bones" features falsetto styling that only a mother could love. But the good ultimately outweighs the bad, making for a flawed but still satisfying debut. If not for the constant shift to shoegazer dynamics and ethereal harmonies, Howling Bells almost come across like an Australian version of New Pornographers, and that's not such a bad thing at all.
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AllMusic Review by Tim DiGravina