Howards Alias were (until their tragic recent break-up) one of the most innovative bands on the UK underground circuit, mixing elements of ska, punk, rock, emo, hardcore, and any number of other genres, and were, in my opinion, the jewel in the crown of Household Name Records. "Beat Heart, Beat," their third and final album, is a fine epitaph for a band whose creativity, musical ability, and feel for a good tune were second to none.
Imagine Jimmy Eat World covering RX Bandits and Capdown songs in a more epic, grandiose way, and you're about halfway to describing the uniquely brilliant music Howards Alias made throughout their, sadly short, career.
As with their previous album "The Answer Is Never," "Beat Heart, Beat" has some brilliant production, striking the perfect medium between a raw and natural punk-rock sound, and polished rock production, retaining incredible force and crunch, and allowing each instrument room to breathe. This is all put to great use by the band themselves who, as ever, produce an bubbling aural cauldron of many flavours. They consist of...
Matt Reynolds - Guitar, Vocals
Steve McCusker - Bass Guitar
Jon Warren - Drums
Nick Horne - Trombone, Keyboard, Vocals, Piano, Trumpet
Matt's disctinctly English-sounding vocal delivery is constantly impressive (the man's vocal range is unbelievable and his unwillingness to imitate an American accent is commendable). His vocals are never lost in the mix, but neither do they ever overpower it. How he manages to carry out such amazing singing AND play the guitar is beyond me, but his guitar work is just as impassioned. Varying from acoustic strummings to ska upstrokes to heavy chordwork to haunting, high-pitched melodies and much more besides, the huge arsenal of sounds at his disposal are used to full potential throughout. If you need any more proof of Matt's all-round ability, then look at the lyrical skill he displays in every song; introspective, personal accounts which, although emotional, never come across as "emo" in any typical sense, he has a lyrical style all his own.
Steve's basslines rarely lapse into repetitive root notes. Quite the opposite in fact, as he uses a variety or rhythms, and utilises the majority of the fretboard, and this makes for some incredibly catchy basslines which are often the driving force behind the some of the songs.
Jon (who joined the band shortly before the album's release) exhibits his huge ability throughout the album. His style is similar to previous drummer Jevon's, combining frantic beats with tasteful fills, and a manic bass-pedal speed when required, weaving his work brilliantly around the rest of the music without ever missing a beat.
Multi-instrumentalist Nick adds the finishing touch to all of the songs with his incredibly catchy trombone and trumpet melodies being a significant part of every song, rather than an afterthought, as is the case in more famous brass-infused bands like Reel Big Fish or Less Than Jake. Nick also provides further variety to the sound by providing occasional backing vocals, and also piano and keyboard playing, which is a new element to the HA sound, having not featured on previous albums.
The music as a whole is always melodic, although not in a poppy sense, with the only shouting being provided by occasional bursts of gang vocals. I guaruntee you'll find yourself humming the songs for weeks after you first hear them.
It's impossible to pick highlights, as every song present here represents a high point for the band, but for the sake of describing the varied sounds on offer here, I'll give a few examples.
Opener "Wrong Note" sweeps jauntily along on a jerky rhythm from the bass and drums, and a high-pitched vocal and guitar combination, with interesting use of hand claps in the choruses, which also feature truly anthemic sing-along opportunities.
"Rabbit In Headlights" is one of the many songs which highlights Matt's vocal ability, and also that of Jon's drumming in particular. Featuring some jingly bell sounds and beautiful instrumental sections.
"Difflam" starts off as an acoustic ballad, before increasing in tempo and volume, until it builds up into a monumental rock number.
"The Explanation" features some great horn lines, and some very honest and up-front lyrics about Matt's attitude to promiscuity. The song retains a quite frantic pace throughout, and some unbelievable catchy melodies from all of the instruments.
"The Drive" features a driving rhythm to match its title, yet more great melodies, and a more subdued, jazzy bridge section.
"Maggie And Me Pt. 2 (The Fall)" is a true chameleon of a song, begining as a slow paced ska-reggae number with soulful use of the trombone and trumpet, before morphing into a mid-paced rock number with the odd stabs of sharp keyboard noise. It then lapses into a jazz/lounge section, and then back to the rockier sound, overlaid with more of that soulful brass to top it all off.
"...If It Wasn't Screwed On" is a more subdued number featuring some intriguing guitar effects, and Matt showing off the lower ranges of his vocals.
"Time For Bed" blasts out with some minor-key chord work, followed by a jerky ska-influenced section, and lyrics (some of the best on the album) about lovers meeting from the first time, with Matt even talking to himself ("Please wake up, oh Matt wake up!") through the medium of some of the more poppier melodies on the album (but this is no bad thing at all). The song goes through several "movements" and is the album's real epic track in my opinion.
Obviously, the tracks I haven't mentioned are equally amazing (how could anyone expect any less?!). Although providing instant aural gratification, "Beat Heart, Beat" is an album that you can go back and listen to over and over, and still discover nuances and hidden elements which you'd not noticed before. It really is a rewarding listen, a truly multifarious tapestry of sound.