Imagine a 1960s beach party movie starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon: young, bouncy 30-year-olds-playing-teenagers; carefully manicured Hollywood sand; crashing pre-filmed waves; and a cameo by Twiggy or the Monkees or someone equally likely to merit recognition from my mother. Now, pull the beach blanket out from under the cast of “Gidget” and replace them with the Strokes.
Congratulations. You just produced Howler.
The Minneapolis band’s debut album, “America Give Up,” has that same listless, electric thread pulsing through it that’s kept Julian Casablancas’ sunglasses cabinet well-stocked for a decade. Where Howler — fronted by younger-than-me-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life Jordan Gatesmith — succeeds that I don’t think the Strokes always do is in the fun department. First track “Beach Sluts” gets things rolling with a fully danceable jam that is tailor-made for vacation playlists. “This One’s Different” builds an inescapable sandcastle of guitar riffs around your head — not that you’d want to escape, as Gatesmith’s vocal sneer takes your mind to every roguish thing you have ever done, and you love every minute of it. This album is a love letter to carefree youth.
Howler brings garage rock to the shoreline without ever seeming canned. There’s more than a little hint of Wavves’ “totally blazed out of our minds beach bums” chill peppering “America Give Up,” but a Beach Boys-influenced feel wins out. That’s not to say that the Beach Boys didn’t partake of the drugs, because the ’60s, that’s why. You just don’t need a to break out the pipe to fully appreciate Howler … but it might help. I leave it to listener discretion.
“Back of Your Neck” brings its sockhop A-game, punctuating every verse with a Greek chorus of “woo wee woooo.” You’ll know exactly what that means the second you hear it. “Pythagorean Fearem” wins for best song title, and gets a little rowdier than the rest of the album — until Howler closes with the rambunctious “Black Lagoon” and does for spelling in songs what Gwen Stefani could never quite achieve.
“America Give Up” doesn’t reinvent the post-punk wheel, but it does lather an entire bottle of Coppertone on it. Grab a cold one, cue it up and have a dance in the sand.
(1) “Beach Sluts”
(3) “This One’s Different”
(9) “Back of Your Neck”
(11) “Black Lagoon”