he existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development." Frederick Jackson Turner spoke these words in regards to the American West in 1893 at a conference of historians in Chicago. The same could be said for the advancement of music. As long as there is free land to explore, the advancement of artists willing to attempt to tame the savage fringe of inaccessibility will continue. Now, there will never be a musician who runs into the studio claiming to have run out of sounds, but if we chart the progress of the Rolling Stones, for example, we can easily see that certain bands are only capable of taking music so far in its journey into the world. The Stones perfected a style that had been brewing within England for many years and was waiting to be exploited. But it was the forebearers to that sound, the American blues men, the English bands that came before the Stones that were the true settlers of the land. The Stones merely swept into the civilized territory and picked up the unclaimed profits that were there for the taking.
Something tells me that the same thing is going to happen with Howard Hello. The group weaves sonic tapestries of guitar, electronics, and vocals that take cleverly from other genres: post rock, avant classical, IDM, among others. Although they are certainly taking cues from previously worn paths of musical endeavor, the group is also, at the same time, paving its own way into the pantheon of music. It is their willingness to experiment with traditional portions of the genres of music that they excel in that allows the finished product to sound so original.
Take, for example, “America”. The song starts with a simple repeating guitar line reminiscent of John Fahey’s delicate ministrations. Soon a repeating keyboard line enters the fray complementing the two guitar lines, adding a touch of Philip Glass’ influence to the mix. As the song rolls beautifully along in an almost serene and boring manner a distorted vocal sample kicks in which appears to be clearly in rhythm with the song, but still sounds as though it is independent of the proceedings. The vocal sample is then treated and cut up, IDM style, until Marty Anderson’s voice clears away all the sonic debris for the moment by repeating the words, “I couldn’t say no.” The vocal repeats until it is finally overtaken by a buildup of sonic texture of cut up vocals and the distant, but distinct repeating guitar line from the beginning of the song.
Clearly the trappings of other genres of music are at work here, but they are mixed in such a way that a new type of music that defies categorization emerges. As the settlers in the West used old and tired techniques to move further into the country, Howard Hello is using the markers set forth by other musicians to create a satisfying and enjoyable new listening experience- clearing the way for more musicians to use their innovations perhaps in a more accessible way in the future. Let’s just hope that they get some of the credit when the time comes.