Howling Bells

Radio Wars

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Howling Bells toured heavily in support of their self-titled debut, playing international shows alongside heavyweights like Coldplay, Snow Patrol, and the Killers. Released three years later, Radio Wars finds the group polishing its mix of country-noir and alternative pop/rock, a sound that now owes far more to the latter category. If 2006's Howling Bells was the fictional soundtrack to a gloomy art house film, then Radio Wars is its big-budget sequel, a collection of minor-key anthems and Technicolor melodies that are both stylish and cinematic. Howling Bells are ready for their close-up, having traded in the grayscale cover art of their first album for a foursome of brightly colored headshots, and this sophomore effort expands the band's sound appropriately. Violin, viola, cello, and trumpet add color to selected tracks, while guitarist Joel Stein alternates between angular slashes and shoegazing swells, evoking urban skylines one minute and hazy, open-ended soundscapes the next. As before, the true focus remains on vocalist Juanita Stein, whose croon is responsible for the sexy undercurrents running beneath all ten tracks. On the album's final two songs -- the minimalist, insistent "How Long" and a hidden track named "To L.A." -- she sounds both alluring and dangerous, pitching her vocals atop industrial percussion and keyboards like an indie rock siren. Radio Wars demands its listeners heed that siren song, and it's truthfully hard to resist.

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