Words Katherine McKenzie.
To say Harry Howard has been a part of the Australian music scene for quite some time now would be an understatement. A founding member of the post-punk band Crime & the City Solution, they released four albums before disbanding in 1991. Howard was also a member of These Immortal Souls, and has played with The Birthday Party. Harry Howard and the NDE is his current act, having released their first album Near Death Experience in 2012, and Pretty in 2014, their latest is Sleepless Girls – a combination of dark pop melodies and garage rock, while still retaining a strong sense of Howard’s 1980s post-punk roots.
‘The Only One’ is a solid opening track, complete with catchy pop hooks and simple rock riffs. The prominent pipe organ keyboards that feature throughout the track add a dark 1980s goth vibe, contrasting with the overall upbeat feel of the song. It is actually quite a fun and energetic song, that still retains a sense of moodiness, and I can almost imagine it being played in some alternative underground nightclub in London in the eighties.
‘The Lake’ contains a beautiful piano melody, accompanying the upbeat yet dark mood of the track. The piano adds a softness that contrasts nicely with the standard rock guitar riffs and drum beats. The overall feel is atmospheric, which is further heightened by Howard’s dark lyrics; “I sank like a stone, I sank with a weight, the light filtered through just a little too late, as I lay dissolving into nothing but space, I had no body, no thoughts and no face.”
‘Grim Disposition’ is a throwback to 90s garage rock; raw and simple with rock riffs. There is a certain vibe about this track that is very reminiscent of The Dandy Warhols, with the keys also heightening this resemblance. The keyboard is less prominent than in other songs on the album, it is still noticeably there in the chorus, but it doesn’t contain the same 80s goth rock feel as these other tracks. The vocals are gritty, with Howard drawling through gloomy and bleak lyrics, in a slightly detached and un-emotive manner. If dark and pessimistic lyrics aren’t to your taste, I doubt Sleepless Girls would be likely to change your mind. However this moodiness is part of their appeal, and matches the overall gothic theme that runs throughout the album, with these lyrics also showing a skill in storytelling with meaning.
‘She Doesn’t Like It’ is an upbeat and boppy guitar pop number. Restrained, but with catchy hooks, it sounds less brooding than many of the other tracks on Sleepless Girls. However that’s not to say the lyrical themes are any lighter or more optimistic, with ‘She Doesn’t Like It’ describing how things can turn rotten in a relationship, and how two people can start to grate on each other; “My jokes are sounding bitter and twisted – she’s white heat, I’m getting blistered. Too much contention, too much derision – pretty soon there’s going to be a collision.”
Overall Sleepless Girls contains musical elements and influences of Britpop bands such as Pulp and Suede, with their clean and catchy guitar hooks, which incorporate a sense of optimism. However Harry Howard and The NDE mix this sound up with a 1980s goth rock influence, with dark and gloomy vocals and pipe organ keyboards, that is reminiscent of The Sisters of Mercy, The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees. Sleepless Girls is a highly enjoyable album, which contains a nice juxtaposition of light and dark, with serious and intense tracks but also upbeat pop tracks that break up the album. Certain tracks are quite obvious in their retro 80s influences, but Sleepless Girls thankfully doesn’t fall into a cliché gothic rock copy, but instead brings a fresh and contemporary take on these aforementioned genres.
Harry Howard and the NDE’s Sleepless Girls album is OUT NOW through Spooky Records HERE.