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Verse Chorus Verse: Howling Bells – “Setting Sun”

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I don't like opening acts.  That's not official policy but rather the voice of experience.  I should clarify.  I don't often like bands I'm first introduced to as an opening act.  I do better when I have some idea who they are and what they're about.  I can count on one hand the number of bands who have walked onstage and gotten my attention and yet it's happened twice in the last year.  The first was The National, who opened for R.E.M. last summer in Atlanta.  They would have escaped my attention were it not for the persistence of my sidekick 11. The second band?  Howling Bells, who I saw open for Coldplay in Nashville.

Howling Bells are only now getting US distribution of their sophomore effort, Radio Wars, which means I had to import their self-titled debut.  In researching the band after their set, I found more than one writer thought of their debut as the sort of album that could serve as a soundtrack to a David Lynch film.  I don't know about all that.  Imagine Concrete Blonde doing dream-pop and you have an entry point to Howling Bells. They sound infinitely more accessible than Lynch. 

Take "Setting Sun" for instance.  There's a nocturnal gloom and an air of mystery, but this is no goth dirge.  Frontwoman Juanita Stein exudes charisma over chiming guitars.  It's not original or groundbreaking, but there was something memorable and intoxicating about it because months after hearing it onstage for the first time, I'm still drawn to it.  Speaking of those chiming guitars, Coldplay fans will recognize the sound because Ken Nelson, the man who produced their first two records, produced Howling Bells' debut.  The two bands don't sound terribly alike, but certain sonic textures familiar to Coldplay fans can be found here as well.  Not everything on Howling Bells' self-titled debut is as bewitchingly catchy as "Setting Sun," but they are no one-trick pony. 

Speaking of Coldplay, Chris Martin encouraged everyone at their Sommet Center show to download Howling Bells' "Nightingale."  I'm assuming he meant for us to download it legally.  What Chris doesn't know is that I hate downloading, so I've ordered Radio Wars.  Now if only the mailman would hurry the hell up and deliver it.

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About Josh Hathaway