Three-minute blasts of guitars, drums, bass, and attitude may be among the simplest kinds of songs to make, but they're also some of the hardest to make truly distinctive. The Strokes did it by evoking the heyday of New York's punk and new wave scene, infusing it with emotions that veered from too cool for school to unbridled glee; the Ramones did it by subverting the sounds of '50s and '60s innocence with tales of sniffing glue and being sedated; and the Libertines did it by harking back to the Beatles and the Clash while adding their own debauchery and poetry. Howler obviously hold these sounds and bands in great reverence, and that may be what inhibits them from fully inhabiting their music: they've got the handclaps, the strutting riffs, and the backing vocals in just the right places, but there isn't much that makes their music stand out from what came before them. Jordan Gatesmith's voice -- which is surprisingly deep for a guy still in his teens when these songs were recorded -- hovers somewhere between a sleepier Julian Casablancas and a less excitable Joey Ramone. He's got the lung power, but not the authority of his idols, and doesn't quite make songs such as the self-loathing put-down "Told You Once" as riveting as they should be. Even the album's best moments feel like they're standing in the shadows of Howler's influences: "Wailing (Making Out)"'s impatience and singsong verse melody play like a rewrite of the Strokes' "The Modern Age." Still, it's hard to dismiss Howler entirely. There's plenty of fun to be had in the rave-up "Black Lagoon," and songs such as "Beach Sluts" would have freshened up Angles. "Too Much Blood," with its wall-of-sound beats and dreamy melody, hints at untapped depths to the band's sound, as does "Free Drunk," which finds Gatesmith singing in a more natural -- and original -- voice. While too many young bands try to tackle too many sounds on their first albums, it could be argued that Howler didn't experiment enough. Even if they weren't quite ready for the amount of attention thrown at America Give Up, it's a debut with potential, especially if Howler find their own identity as completely as they borrowed others'.
America Give Up Review
by Heather Phares