Howling Bells – Heartstrings
As the title suggests, Howling Bells’ new album is meant to be emotional: the songs on Heartstrings are about love and loss. The distorted instrumentation throughout speaks of a troubled mind suffering through misery, but there’s also a glittering expectation and hope. Guitars wail and grind, frontwoman Juanita Stein’s voice scratches like it’s being projected through a megaphone, but then there are songs here that shimmer like clear skies after a rainstorm. On the album’s title, Stein explains: “There are extreme highs and lows on it, and as a band we’ve tumbled through all of that.” Heartstrings plays out like a musical reflection of this mentality and experience.
This album is personal, much of the lyrics openly reflective and introspective. Lead single Slowburn deals with Stein’s frustration with a life scuppered by stagnation, while the glittering Euphoria finds her both crying and laughing out loud. The most grandiose number, Your Love, begins with a grander statement than anything else on Heartstrings as Stein questions “where have all the moments gone, and where is all the love?” It seems too readily made for a Facebook status update to be personal, but then Stein follows with the line: “I miss your sadness and broken heart, but most of all I miss your love”, the final refrain of which she repeats over and over as if trying to summon it back into existence.
Musically, Heartstrings find Howling Bells flitting between their country and folk tethering and a more visceral, grating rock sound. Tornado is a skittering track with a guitar line that twangs like a country western, while Original Sin has a bluesy rock vibe reminiscent of The Black Keys, right down to Stein’s distorted vocals and the woah-woah harmonies. Paper Hearts is the most theatrical thing here, with a bohemian-inspired piano line that sits just outside anything else on the record. Some tracks suffer from being overstuffed and mired in production overlays, meaning the country inspired tunes work better. The emotional resonance that this album aspires to does get lost underneath the noise of the band’s rockier pieces.
Heartstrings finds Howling Bells in a confident mood. While not every song hits the same emotional heights, the music here is solid, and Stein’s sometimes visceral, sometimes theatrical sentimentality is dynamic and highly listenable.
Heartstrings is released on 2nd June 2014. For further information or to pre-order the album visit Howling Bells’ website here.
Watch the video for Slowburn here: