Australian dream-rock dudes (and dudette) toured North America earlier this year with Coldplay — and like Chris Martin's not-so-merry men, Howling Bells on their sophomore album attempt to dress up what might otherwise be a clutch of dour, namby-pamby white-person ditties with all manner of spicy studio-side textures. The result is no Vida La Vida: even if you have guitars as gorgeously gauzy as those in "Let's Be Kids" and "Cities Burning Down," you've gotta give 'em something to do, and Howling Bells come up pretty short in the chords-and-melodies department.
Say what you will about Coldplay's self-pitying melodrama, those guys can write a memorable tune. Too often on Radio Wars, velvet-voiced singer Juanita Stein seems content to hover around a handful of notes, and that makes it hard to distinguish this stuff from similarly styled fare by the Duke Spirit or Doves.
Stein and her bandmates do come up with a winner in the closing "How Long," where a stutter-stepped drone-soul beat throbs beneath a lush smear of funeral-jazz brass. By that time, though, the radio wars have been lost.
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