This Chicago-based group's third album continues to challenge traditional soul revivalism, exploring R&B in the context of a world that has experienced post-punk and alternative rock. The result is the band's most accomplished and cohesive album yet, but one that may surprise fans.
As diverse as the band has proved to be in the past, Howl seems to indicate a new direction, thanks in part to the efforts of producer Howard Bilerman, who has worked with such artists as Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Charismatic lead singer Brooks at times sounds like the soulful incarnation of David Bowie. The title track's big-beat drums, strutting bass and sharp-edged guitar make it feel as if it wouldn't have been out of place on Bowie's Let's Dance, while the effects-laden guitars of "Control" and "These Things" recall the sonic textures of classic U2.
Like many numbers on this recording, the sad and beautiful "Married for a Week" addresses the uncertainty of love. Such is not the case, though, with the hopeful YOLO come-on of "Before You Die," which boasts undeniable dance rhythms in a Memphis-style rhythm section, funky guitar licks and touches of synthesizer wheezing.
Brooks flirts with a near-Prince-style falsetto on the irresistible "Rouse Yourself," which rides a wiggly guitar figure, and on the modern-rock-sounding "Security." With its guitars slinging tasteful amounts of twang and reverb, "Not Alone" sounds almost like a mainstream pop-rocker, while Brooks exercises an impassioned croon on the Otis Redding-style "River."