Album reviews: Howler, America Give Up | Tribes, Baby

Likeable touters of teen touchstones, Howler and Tribes are the pick of current guitar pop bands – but where’s the Next Big Thing? Reviews by Fiona Shepherd

Howler: America Give Up - Rough Trade, £11.99 Rating: ***

Tribes: Baby - Island, £10.99, Rating: ***

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AS THEY used to say in Smash Hits, gawd help us if there’s a war. You wouldn’t want to rely on this shower to man the punk barricades in a crisis. And yet, by default, that is precisely where they have been stationed. Meet the latest saviours apparent of guitar music – Howler from Minneapolis and Tribes from London.

They arrive armed with two decent but far from earth-shattering debut albums. Such questionable weaponry didn’t stop The Vaccines from becoming the only new guitar band of any commercial consequence last year, but still, it would be nice to counter the argument that guitar bands are dead (rumours of that death being greatly exaggerated, of course – there are gazillions of guitar bands out there, it’s just that very few are being signed and none is getting the heavy-duty promo) with an instant classic – a new Is This It, say.

This is particularly unfortunate in the case of Howler, who have a charismatic, shaggy-haired young frontman in Converse boots, were signed pronto to Rough Trade and, beyond these cosmetic similarities, sound exactly like The Strokes ten years shy of the zeitgeist.

Frontman Jordan Gatesmith has made no secret of his love for New York’s finest. His own band don’t reek of the same gang cool but they certainly turn in a zippy approximation of their strident jangling sound on America Give Up, which they mix up with the Jesus & Mary Chain’s artfully nonchalant twist on 1960s girl-group pop. Accordingly, Gatesmith has two vocal styles, the Jim Reid baritone drawl and the Casablancas howl.

The unfortunately titled Back To The Grave takes a necrophiliac approach to the Mary Chain’s scuzzed-up surf rock, while Too Much Blood blisses out like one of their reverby ballads. Elsewhere, they make an efficient stab at psychobilly on Pythagorean Fearem, while Back Of Your Neck infringes on The Drums’ breezy indie surf pop territory.

Anyone over the age of 20 is unlikely to be dazzled by this derivative display but this is no matter to Howler, who are out to address their peer group with all the teenage touchstones. “I wish that there was something I could do, because I hate myself more than I hate you” from Told You Once is the hookline highlight of the album, accompanied by handclaps and a deft melodic guitar breakdown.

Despite the terse 32-minute running time, they run out of steam towards the end. But, for no-frills kicks, America Give Up does the job. Howler’s chances of propelling themselves beyond the middle of the league table will stand and fall on how ferociously they can put this album across live. With no time to waste, they head out on a UK tour from next week.

Tribes are a bit older (or maybe that’s just the alcohol) and reach further back for their reference points – maybe as far back as, oooh, the 1990s. Being a bunch of Camden scruffs, they have that cleverer-than-they-look Libertines stance which casually flaunts an education in the works of The Ramones and The New York Dolls.

This sort of punx-not-dead schtick usually gets laughed out the park by the tastemakers while being lapped up by the fans. Baby is scrappy, melodic and unpretentious with choruses made for slinging your arm round a mate and drunkenly swaying along to while sloppily holding your pint aloft.

Unlike Howler, Tribes take a moment to gaze beyond the end of their own fringes and engage with their broader environment. Singer Johnny Lloyd – an old-school rock-star name for an aspiring old-school rock star – seems quite a tortured soul, prone to bouts of melancholic nostalgia and weary disillusion.

Corner Of An English Field, inspired by the suicide of his friend Charlie Haddon (of the band Ou Est Le Swimming Pool), is the best of these modern-life-is-rubbish numbers, viewed through a personal lens but making a wider point about social disenfranchisement.

Although he cannot muster Pete Doherty levels of pithy, poetic eloquence, he makes a decent job of storytelling on Sappho, which is sincere without taking itself too seriously. Himalaya and Nightdriving – with a chorus which asks “what use is God if you can’t see him?” – both err on the overwrought side. Bad Apple is a better expression of the messy, heart-on-sleeve glam punk epic and When My Day Comes is good old tuneful New Wave pop. All in all, Baby is a likeable mutt.

At another time of year and in different company, neither of these albums would garner the attention or carry the hopes which have been heaped upon them, but both advertise potential which in Howler’s case could likely be a springboard to bigger if not necessarily better things.