Having made their initial mark on the UK indie scene nearly a decade ago, Howling Bells return with their third studio album Heartstrings. Despite failing to prolong the impressive success of their self titled debut in 2004, the band have matured over time and now take on a new outlook within their song-writing.
Relocating to London and Berlin, the native Australians have apparently settled down with other musical projects, and lead singer Juanita Stein has self-confessedly adopted a new worldview with motherhood. These are not the only things that have changed though, with the band also switching line-ups since their last release, adding new bassist Gary Daines into the mix.
What remains the same is Howling Bells’ distinctive charged guitars, as opener “Pairs” is filled with trademark raw chords. Vocalist Stein, however grown up, also remains a constant in the updated sound and strikes the right balance between drawling and harmonic on the relentless “Possessed”.
The aptly named “Slowburner” is relaxed at first but grows into something bigger and much more frantic with every hook. It builds into a wall of sound that only thickens with the foreboding follow up “Tornado”, a menacing number, on which it’s clear that Howling Bells are refusing to lose their edge.
The band takes a softer approach on the delicate “Paper Heart”. Soft and morose, it’s a simple ballad that, while pretty, doesn’t completely wrench in the way it should. Title track and closer “Heartstrings” is a more well suited slow number with its darkly beautiful lyrics and yearning delivery, the fuller instrumentation bringing with it mysterious overtones.
Describing the process behind the track and why the album takes on its name from it Juanita explains, “I like that the word does mean the most emotional of feelings. It just feels right for this record, ’cause there are extreme highs and extreme lows on it, and as a band we’ve tumbled through all of that. So it feels nice to come out at this place where I feel that this album is really open and expressive. That title encapsulates that.”
The theme is definitely prevalent - this is a release where ups and downs are a frequent occurrence. The band have come full circle, and whilst Heartstrings is unlikely to break new ground in the way they have before, it’s a return to brooding form from a band many thought had rung out.