If your only previous experience of Australian music was Rolf Harris and Jet, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Howling Bells have crafted a moody and sophisticated debut, turning out twelve impeccable slices of stirring folk-rock. And not a beard in sight. Musically, they don't veer too far from the beaten path, the album seemingly has a steady 4x4 rhythm running through its veins, but this is embellished by atmospheric slide guitars and shimmering organs. Through this rather tight framework, though, the band carve out a varied collection, with BRMC style blues-rocker "Blessed Night" sounding like a natural neighbour of "I'm Not Afraid" which is a country tinged lament.
What truly makes it stand out from the crowd, though, are the vocals of Juanita Stein. Veering from a husky, seductive croon on "Velvet Girl", to a pristine rendering of a lilting melody on highlight, "The Night Is Young", Stein has one of the best voices this reviewer has heard in a long time. She takes the listener on a journey in the dead of night with her melancholy cadences, but never overcooks her vocals like so many talented singers feel the need to.
On first listen, you might find Howling Bells a rather frustrating prospect, there are no immediate pop songs, the melodies are sometimes buried in the mix, but if you stick with it, it is well worth the effort. It is, in this respect, very much like R.E.M's Murmur album, a slow-burning classic, and there is no reason why this album cannot gain the same kind of status.