Review Summary: Howl comes from nowhere and goes someplace similar
The basic script for this review is so obvious I don’t want to write it. Here it is in a sentence: Erased Tapes, not Nils Frahm, Jon Hopkins but not, 2014-era Throwing Snow but not, not quite anything really, still fun, called the wrong tune “Howl”. You get the gist.
Ryan West really did call the wrong track “Howl”, though, and it’s annoying enough to focus on. “Howl” is a relatively stock example of recent Rival Consoles material, which means the kind of pulse-heavy, visceral electronic aesthetic of Jon-you-know-who with a little more rhythm and a whole lot less melody. It fits him into a small group of barely group-able UK producers who, despite sharing similar, almost-experimental trappings, are utterly detached from any tangible scene in particular. This is worth bringing up because a bit more interaction with the locals might have made the howl (in “Howl) a little less pathetic. When it comes, it’s weak – I want to find whatever synthesiser stammered out that excuse and ask for it again, but this time with feeling
There is a wall West never quite breaks through and it isn’t even his fault. Not directly anyway, he could have avoided it, but on its own – maybe a decade or so ago – Howl
would have been fine. His problem is the existence of Perc and Truss, of Kahn & Neek and Rabit, of The Bug. UK Bass, which Rival Consoles can’t be said to be a part even if it is competing, has become dark. We’re pumping out the kind of nightmare fuel fit for a country with a quarter-century hold on drugged up, Dionysiac ecstasy. Howl
’s completely domesticated in comparison.
West gets close. “Walls” growls like it was ripped straight from Throwing Snow’s Mosaic
, in a good way, and the staccato rhythms midway through “Loom” give a satisfyingly jagged rush. However, despite the effort to give a few more goes at howling (both of these tracks do a better job than “Howl” itself), results are still too tame. The textural harshness and power these sounds need just isn’t there, and they lack impact as a result.
fairs better when it isn’t trying to be abrasive. West’s stab at melodic, laid back techno is pleasant, as well as much more entertaining than label-mate Nils’ recent efforts with Olafur Arnalds. The cinematic and drum-roll-heavy build-up of “Low” is also interesting even if it feels slightly out of place. I’d have liked it to go on further too: maybe relaxing into a plateau for a few more minutes instead of quickly scaling down. In any case, there’s a lack of consistency here. West is reaching out for a lot of different things and I’m not entirely sure where he is reaching from.
Still, despite its frustratingly monadic nature Howl
does hold attention. When played live, professional-grade soundsystems can help to give West’s songs the push they need to break through this time-worn desensitivity. But even then there’s something missing. Make the sounds as harsh as you like: it won’t change the fact Howl
reaches out for a crowd yet feels scene-less – somehow detached. I’ve had the album for a month and still can’t work out what it is trying to do. It doesn’t sound like it comes from anywhere, so who is Howl
The answer’s clear – it’s the same people who are reading this. You. You dislocated, globally spread audience. There’s nothing wrong with that at all – you’re fine, it’s fine – but it releases Howl
into the stream feeding our online appetite with nothing to slow it down. Soundcloud hit one day; forgotten the next, because there is nothing it is a part of or anyone in particular to champion or cherish it. For the same reason, I struggle to break in. And why should I try" Do I dance or analyse or relax or what" Because I don’t know. Howl
comes from nowhere and goes someplace similar, so it just flows past, as many albums do.