Howling Bells
"Radio Wars"

(Nettwerk Records/Independiente 2009)Howling Bells - Radio Wars

Despite the colorized mug shot style photos of the band members on the front cover of “Radio Wars” and front woman Juanita Stein’s Power To The People fist in the air pose borrowed, most likely, from a ‘70s Jane Fonda, Howling Bells aren’t exactly radical extremists. In fact, they’re barely even liberal when it comes to their music. Instead the Australian quartet opt for a far more dreamy and sleepy-eyed conservative sound on their sophomore album.

Tracks like “Treasure Hunt” and “Let’s Be Kids” find Stein’s delicate vocals floating, warmly washing over layered, textured melodies that have potential to charm with her smooth and somewhat shy singing style that’s right out of the playbook for 1950s ballads. But something is lacking on “It Ain’t You” as the perfectly romantic tune just soars passively by, as does much of the album. And it’s all just, well…a little too perfect. The stiffly forced flawlessness peaks with the uncomfortable “Golden Web” when Stein sighs she’s been “bitten by a spider.”

Listeners inclined towards Howling Bells might want to check out the slightly edgier Great Northern instead. Don’t get the wrong idea. Howling Bells are good – or rather, they have the potential to be good. There is nothing offensive or even terribly unlikable about Stein’s vocals or the album’s soft melodies. But “Radio Wars” just offers too much of the same over and over and over again. Howling Bells could use to spice things up; maybe add a few nightmares to their dreamy indie pop?


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