Review: Howl Griff – Fragile Diamond
Published on August 10th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Q. How do you command Rocksucker’s instant attention with a press release for a band we weren’t aware of?
A. Include the phrase “Anglo-Welsh-American psychedelic rockers” somewhere near the beginning.
Is it all we’d hoped it would be? For the most part, yes. “You Don’t Have to Leave On Your Own” makes for an authoritative opener, fuzzy and playful with its neat songwriting touches, not to mention the further level of intrigue applied by daffy lyrics like “You’ve got to love animals, she said / You’ve got to love them all / I thought you’d be taller / But you’re really quite small / And not so clever at all”. Hywel Griffiths’s vocals generally show up strongly through the cheapo production, and are supplemented by nice, breezy harmonies all across the album, which apparently is Howl Griff’s third since their eponymous, Welsh-language 2008 debut.
The ensuing title track’s sunny trot brings to mind fellow intriguing prospects Mordecai Smyth, while “Sharkfins in the Sky” and “Radio Revolution” could very well have been written to Rocksucker’s very own bespoke specifications, the former a Ffa Coffi Pawb-esque frame for canny fuzz-pop chord changes and some very Gruff Rhys-like whooping, the latter aligning a trippy, early-Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci “la la la” refrain with a sea shanty sway.
“Runaround” is jittery and blessed with a rollicking good chorus, “Meet My Maker” graceful, stately and reflective with a huge-sounding lead guitar that sounds as if Sigur Ros were bleeding over from the next practice room, the splendidly titled “Puppet Operation Time” smart, energetic jangle-pop that briefly evokes the “pooooooo-ny” mid-section from Ween’s “Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony?”, and “Rose of Emily” – not to be confused with “A Rose for Emily” by The Zombies – a country-ish shuffle with whirring slide guitar and nifty backing ooooh oooh oh!s…
…but, in a commendable display of confidence, Howl Griff save the best ’til last: “FÜßßBÜKKËR” is very decent indeed with its discordant chugs, sci-fi effects, spy film guitar solo and instruction to “Semaphore your message loud / To make you stand out from the ground”, but it is the closing double-whammy of “International Dateline” and “Everything” that steal the show on Fragile Diamond.
“International Dateline” is absolutely gorgeous, especially its psych-lite trot of a chorus, reminding overall of sadly missed compatriots (at least for Griffiths) Derrero, while “Everything” sounds in places like early Blur, an almost David Byrne-esque nervous energy to the vocal and an intonation of “And looooove…” that we’ll give the benefit of the doubt for mirroring that of “Beautiful Haze” from Babybird’s The Pleasures of Self Destruction LP of last year. It then fades out all the instrumental parts so that only the swoonsomely harmonising vocals remain, and a flippin’ marvellous end to the album it is too.
Fragile Diamond is not without its unremarkable moments, and that it occasionally lapses into relatively run-of-the-mill boy/girl lyricism is admittedly a harsh thing to take issue with given that not every Welsh psych-popster is obliged to adopt Gruff Rhys’s politicised kitchen sink approach, but it delights frequently enough to speculate as to what this lot could accomplish with major label backing. Oh and Lauren Laverne’s a fan, for what that’s worth.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!
Fragile Diamond will be released on 15th October through Dockrad Records. For more information please visit howlgriff.com