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Howling Bells

Feb 26 2009 1:57 pm,

4.5

Howling Bells

Howling Bells

‘Radio Wars’

(Independiente)

 

IT IS testament to the ridiculous ‘get big quick or sink’ attitude in modern music that we almost now expect new bands to fail with their second record, rather than regarding each effort as a stepping stone on the path to a lengthy career. For this reason, and many more besides, ‘Radio Wars’ should be considered a wake-up call to us all. For a start, it’s a stunning creation that proves acts can indeed develop over time - have a little patience, yeah? – and secondly it marks the point where Howling Bells subtly but ever so surely sneak themselves into the major league. With their self-titled fi rst off erring released three years ago, the Sydney foursome swept the board reviewswise, but these ten, cleverly-penned and carefully-treated tracks see them embarking on an altogether more epic and anthemic journey. And if that impressive debut was their spooky TV movie, then ‘Radio Wars’ is their unabashed stab at the big screen. The album shudders into life with ‘Treasure Hunt’ (a tense and addictivetale of lost love and yearning) and continues to astound throughout, with such highlights as ‘Cities Burning Down’, ‘Let’s Be Kids’, ‘Golden Web’, ‘Into The Chaos’ and ‘Digital Hearts’, all creeping into the listener’s consciousness in a variety of diff erent ways. This is due, in no small part to producer Dan Grech-Marguerat, who with the band has arranged these songs to perfection; and it is little touches like the celestial backing vocals, subtle percussion, strings and horns, brooding pianos and shimmering electronics, which when combined with Howling Bells’ trademark spidery guitar lines and playful rhythms all add to the record’s compellingly warm and eerie atmosphere. The intelligence behind the making of ‘Radio Wars’ is, of course, a major factor in its enduring appeal – one listen and you’re hooked - but there is the strong emotional pull too, and that is where lead singer Juanita Stein comes in, her wonderfully smoky and swoonsome vocals propelling each song into absolutely must-hear status. Fans of ghostly indie-pop, and especially acts like The Duke Spirit, Mercury Rev, The Organ and PJ Harvey, need Howling Bells in their lives. And it surely won’t be long until everyone who has contact with these songs succumbs, because it is modern masterpieces just like ‘Radio Wars’ that remind us that music can still be magical.

 

Camilla Pia

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