Monday, 16 June 2008

HOWLING BELLS: Setting Sun


Everything I need to hear gets heard by me in time, and when the time is right. And when the time is right, and you seize the moment, sometimes the immediate need will be so immense that you'll want to listen to it at least a couple of dozen consecutive times. The eponymous debut album by Sydney-transplanted-to-London quartet Howling Bells came out to fair acclaim a couple of years ago and I've only just listened to it but already I want to hear "Setting Sun" forever.

There's nothing "new" about either the song or what the group do with or to it, but it's an approach I've been missing for the last decade and a half; is this "shoegazing"? Well, the gaze of the group, and especially that of lead singer/guitarist Juanita Stein, seems more fixed on the stars, or more properly straight ahead at what's in front of them; Stein has a certain sardonic tone in the bright catherine wheel of her voice, learned in part from Lush, as though she would be quite keen for you to stamp out the last cigarette with your best and brownest brogues, but also a great, galactic faith which ascends over the mountain to the chorus - so dense and eager that the drums are still building up tension when the first line of the chorus is halfway through. Verses are dwelling, unresolved, Church guitars, Chills synth, and "nobody waits for this long, can't you see?," the harmonies distantly swooping in their harbour of drone, and this time will the frost melt to reveal geraniums? "One..." yes! "More..." YES! "Day...is not ENOUGH to change the world!" as buoys toll and the grey sky ventures into corridors of Klein blue, "but we'll rise and fall just like the setting sun!" as birthday presents of shaded harmonies and gilded guitars hymn out the sort of uplifting and soul-sundering chord changes you haven't heard since...well, some critics have said All About Eve, but Lena rightly reckons the Heart Throbs, the pop shoegazers virtually forgotten by everyone else (but not by us); the sublime control of brother Joel's seagull swoops of single notes in the middle eight, the slight pause before he repeats them, and the sustenance of the smiling major chords over the first half of the final verse before Mark Hart's keyboards - and Ken Nelson's luminescent production, fresh from working with and similarly elevating Coldplay - reintroduce the question mark; yet again and again they will rise and rule, above not-yet-loving haters, above the dreams sinners could never dream, those who hurt themselves knowing only of hurting themselves, to pull the sleeves of the universe up to their skyline level and watch the purples, the lilacs, the peach bursts of light and revelation such that we can fly with them and perhaps even outrise the sun; their bells now tolling a time I read with gladness and relief.

1 comment:

henry s said...

I would add Sharkboy and Underground Lovers to the list of forgotten 90's bands Howling Bells reminds one of...and The Duke Spirit to the list of soon-to-be-forgotten-and-ain't-it-a-shame 00's bands...