tue 25/02/2020

CD: Howling Bells - Heartstrings | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Howling Bells - Heartstrings

CD: Howling Bells - Heartstrings

Adopted Londoners are back to what they do best on album number four

Back with a bang: Howling Bells' 'Heartstrings' is anything but a slow-burner

Any fears that Howling Bells’ short hiatus, or the new motherhood of frontwoman and lead songwriter Juanita Stein, had softened the band’s deliciously dark yet melodic songwriting must surely be assuaged by the huge, squalling riff that opens new album Heartstrings - and its lead track, “Paris”. While the song itself is a gorgeous, languid meditation on Europe’s romantic capital (“oh Paris, every song’s about you, every romance calls you”) it’s the sonic power of the four-piece’s simple guitar-drums-bass approach that makes its mission statement clear.

Loud but never knowingly jarring is as succinct a description as it gets for about two thirds of Heartstrings; while another line from that opening track sums up the rest. Among the album’s “oh so sad and pretty” songs are “Your Love”, where Stein repeats those very words in a monotone over what counts for a chorus over a huge, echoey and gorgeous melody line. Her voice sounds dreamily smitten against the butterfly-soft harmonics of her brother Joel’s lead guitar on “Euphoria”, even if euphoric is not quite the word for it; while the album’s closing title track is easily one of the most beautiful things the band has ever done.

Although “Heartstrings” the song makes a good ending for Heartstrings the album, it’s hard not to imagine the band’s live shows from now until forever closing with penultimate track “Reverie” - a huge slice of shoegaze that deserves to be turned up so loud it drowns out everything else. The strident “Slowburn” - a cracker of a first single that wouldn’t have been out of place on the band’s critically acclaimed self-titled debut - is nothing of the sort; while “Tornado”, penned by the Steins’ blues-singing father, is the closest the band has come to straight-up country. Although the lyrics are a struggle, the way that the song casts Juanita as a bluesy-voiced snake-charmer singing clumsy metaphors about love bodes well for that country album she recently said was in her future.

Overleaf: watch the "Slowburn" video

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