Shacking Up in Horror Town: Those Howlings’ Blood Island is a Wake Up Call

by Nick Hanover

Those Howlings Blood Island

Lately it seems like every bored group of grad students with a garage and some shitty gear has decided the key to success is trying out some half-assed melodies and dueling male-female vocals over punked up retro rock. I’m not here to name names or anything, not because sometimes I am a nice person, but because today I’d rather focus on one of the rare groups doing it well. Thanks to a Christmas poem solicit e-mail that landed in our glorious leader’s inbox, I have been listening to Those Howlings’ Blood Island for the past few weeks, sock hopping with my dog between sips of out of season mojitos. It’s almost good enough to make me rethink my hatred of the rest of the examples of this subgenre in Austin.

What makes Those Howlings stand out is that there is nothing casual or tossed off about their dueling vocals, instead there is a palpable chemistry between Kyle Fitzgerald’s whiskey soaked growl and Jolie Cota Flink’s sly and sweet coo. Those Howlings have plenty of roughness to their aesthetic, making them an interest hybrid of peak-era X and unjustly forgotten early ’00s UK band The Coral (fuck you, if they were good enough for Portishead, they should be good enough for you too), rockabilly hollering and twangy guitars thrusting impolitely against British Invasion arrangements and Rickenbacker verve until somewhere a baby ensues. The band has a lot of fun with fake out sonic signifiers, like the Cramps-lick that kicks off the album on “Javier” or the bluesy Ray Charles-infused electric piano that closes the album out on “Horror Town.” But for the most part, the band creates a sharp, stylish but never inauthentic garagey groove and rides it out while Fitzgerald and Flink alternate lead roles or come together.

As far as I’m concerned, though, the band are at their best when that duo is joined together. “Secret Chiefs,” for instance, has Fitzgerald howling right out of the gate, with Flink smoothing out the rough edges on the chorus with a back-up line and some cooing counter melodies. On later verses, they flip the formula and Flink is on lead, Fitzgerald’s menacing screams giving her lacy vocals a barbed wire touch. The track operates at full throttle for its entire running time, but the band is just as effective when slowed to a crawl, like on “St Andrew’s Eve,” a slow burner that also features the return of that Cramps guitar and one of the moodiest, most sinister vocal turns from the duo. Here Fitzgerald restrains himself, teasing the vocal cord shredding without fully indulging, ratcheting up the tension so you’re on edge the entire time.

Slightly psychedelic and nearly as haunting is the aptly named “Sleepwalker,” but in its case the slowness is a trick, a bit of foreplay before the song explodes into the kind of string bending fury Crime excelled at. It keeps up that delirious pace until reaching a crescendo where the bass drops away and it’s just Adam Sharp’s frenetic snare rolls and a slew of “whoa-oh-ohs.” It’s a trick you’ve heard before, sure, but the patience and careful arrangement that Those Howlings display turns it into a more delicious trick than normal, not quite so cheap or predictable.

And that’s kind of the thing about Those Howlings in general. They’ve done their homework, this isn’t a total lark. The ingredients they utilize might be familiar and frequently misused, but they’ve got some intriguing spices in the mix and have expertly crafted this work. Blood Island is a purposefully ragged, ramshackle affair but it’s also passionate and heartfelt, raw and endearing. This isn’t some sloppy post-grad hobby here, it’s a commanding release that will hopefully force some of the scene’s slackers to listen up and do their own homework.

Blood Island will be out on tape in February from Yippe Ki Yay Records. Until then, catch Those Howlings tomorrow, January 7th, at Hotel Vegas

Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at  Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover