Howling Bells - Radio Wars

This enjoyable second album from the Aussie band comes along just in time for the advent of Spring.

Having always had the impression that Howling Bells were a dark and doomy kind of an outfit, what most surprised me on my initial listen-through of this album was just how, well, sunny it is in places. If this is goth, then it is goth of the bubblegum-with-just-the-lightest-dusting-of-goth variety, which only rears its head every now and then, chiefly in lyrical asides such as “A haunted love was she” (from ‘Cities Burning Down’) and “Come sing with me / A melody / In the dark of the night” (‘Nightingale), or the titles of tracks (‘Into The Chaos’), rather than in the sound of the music per se.

Elsewhere the real joy is in Juanita Stein’s gorgeous vocal; strong, tuneful and melodious, marking the spot where Siouxie Sioux might meet Karen Carpenter, in some alternate universe. It really comes into its own on ‘It Ain’t You’, the album’s standout track for me, where it swoops and soars and is a genuine delight to listen to. This is one of those tracks that literally puts a smile on my face each time I hear it. Less effective, perhaps, is ‘Let’s Be Kids’, which comes over as a little trite, lyrically (“Let’s be kids again / Life was so simple then” etc), although the slow-ish, nostalgic melody and instrumentation do capture the mood and intention of the song nicely.

The theme (perhaps “concept”?) of ‘Radio Wars’ crops up on a couple of tracks: ‘Digital Hearts’, with the chorus of “Radio wars / Change the station / My digital heart / Is suddenly aching”, and the curious ‘Ms. Bell’s Song’, which carries the subtitle of ‘Radio Wars Theme’, and seems to morph into a totally different song for the last couple of minutes, all martial drumming and repeated warnings that “Radio wars are coming / They’re here”.

Generally, this is quite a light, almost, dare I say fluffy album, which is more likely to put a spring in the step of the casual listener than to offer any great intensity of an aural experience. Taken as that, though, it’s a thoroughly pleasant, and at times positively uplifting listen.