poison to the mind

8May/060

bowling hells

Howling Balls - see you, Jimmeh So bits of the UK press and strands of yer MP3-blogospear'ssister are getting all worked up about this HOT NEW BAND the Howling Bells. Attractive singer! Signed to Cocteau Twins' label! Swirling! Glowering shadows! Woozy carousel! So-and-so meets thus-and-such!

When they first emerged to play a residency here last year though, reaction was mostly "Why have they changed their name to THAT?", with a soupçon of "Oh, they're not saying they've found their true sound AGAIN, are they?" Because the same band had put in about five years of existing as Waikiki in Sydney, releasing two EPs and getting lots of big supports before a full album/singles/tour slog. And every time they put out a new release, they would disown the previous work, and every time they'd start playing a new leg of the tour with a new guitarist or bassplayer or keyboardist (the drummer, Glenn Moule, and Stein siblings Joel and Juanita are constant) would talk up how they'd finally found the right combination of musicians to get across the sound they were looking for, and so forth. Juanita was even credited as 'Kikisun' on their earliest work (and a guest vocal with "dance" band On Inc, if I remember correctly), so I guess there's precedence for the name change.

It's good to see it's working out for them, though, because they'd actually gotten to a decent level of recognition for their decent brand of indie-pop-rock, and going a bit heavier under the same name would hardly have wrong-footed fans or radio listeners. I spoke to Joel just before they left for their extended writing sojourn in England, and he was keen to rethink and develop new material, but no talk of relaunching the band as such.

Anyway, let's delve into the misty past of two or three years ago, and see The Howling Bells Wot Were.

The lead track on their second EP, and first big re-styling (including Rinzen designs for their sleeves, mm), was "New Technology". I thought about offering that recording, produced by Ric Ocasek and snappier than the album version (which had a dreamy coda), but since I'm doing another couple from the record, here's an acoustic version from a television appearance:
Waikiki - New Technology (live on telly)

Another two tracks from the EP were collaborations of a sort, early indications of a desire to stretch beyond what they thought their limitations were. "Mad And Beautiful" was originally written by Juanita with Machine Gun Fellatio's Chit Chat Von Loopinstab on a songwriter's retreat organised by their publisher, and "More" brought in electric string quartet (and frequent sessioneers) FourPlay.
Waikiki - Mad And Beautiful
Waikiki - More

More team-up songwriting happened with fellow Bondi boy Ben Lee, brought in via the band's manager, formerly bassist in Lee's teen band Noise Addict. A couple of songs turned up on his career nadir Hey You Yes You, but the two he penned for their record outshone his own contemporary material by miles in terms of radio-friendly hooks and catchiness. Here's the original demo of "Here Comes September" by Ben and Juanita:
Waikiki - Here Comes September (demo)

And a radio session version of other co-write single, "Complicated":
Waikiki - Complicated (radio session)

Just to wrap up today, another track from the same session, which should provide an instructive contrast between how they used to go gentle for the comtemplative song, as opposed to today's shoegazer-derived hard dreaminess - "Did I":
Waikiki - Did I (radio session)

Buy:
That TV performance can be bought on one of the many Music Live From The Panel CDs. Waikiki's album proper appears to be the only thing still in print from them, so I'll drop a couple more single tracks next week.

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