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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

(the) Howards - Pretty/Ugly

Name: (the) Howards
Album: Pretty/Ugly
Year: 1994
Style: Rock, Ska, Jazzy Blues
Similar Acts: Fabulous Fondas, Primus, Mr. Bungle, Captain Beefheart, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Sublime
One Word Review: Ska-Varients
Based Out Of: Chicago, IL
Label: Pope Memphis Records
 Ugly Cover & Liner Notes
Pretty Cover, Record
Pretty/Ugly (1994)

  1. Gulag 2:29
  2. Big Foot 3:15
  3. Creepy Creepy 4:28/
  4. Break Even 3:52
  5. Frankie Machine Garden 4:27
Album Rating (1-10): 5.5

Members & Other Bands:
Matt Berglind - Vox, Guitar, Trumpet
Mike Lesch -Bass, Vox
Timely Dave Winer - Trumpet, Guitar, Vox, Harmonica
Jim Castillo - Guitars, Vox
Keith Houghteling - Drums, Vox
Dave Smith - Sax
Jeff Nolan - Producer
Mike Hagler - Engineer
David Trumfio - Engineer
Art Shay - Cover Photos
Greg Sudds - Photography
Deidra Castillo - "Cover girl"

Unknown-ness:  I’ve never heard of the Howards, but it seemed like an interesting enough $1 record to pick up in Princeton on record store day. I liked the juxtaposition and use of pretty ugly on opposite sides, and as a full term to perhaps describe the band. As this band is a small time band based in Chicago (popularity might have been big there), it could really be anything, especially from 1994. My guess is a band of snotty white kids playing what they perceive as punk.

Album Review: “Gulag” is a driving kick drum led instrumental song that is quickly followed up with a funky and fun surf guitar & bass combo. It feels like something that would lead off a Robert Rodriguez or Tarantino intro credit sequence back in the mid 90’s.
“Big Foot” begins with spoken word sound clips and quickly evolves into a surf-ska, trumpet based romp. The lyrics are barely sung, but are more chanted in a wacky & nasally, yet slightly angry voice. I can hear some of the early Mr. Bungle influence here. The chorus of background chants “I’ll Be Alright” in a nice melodic echo popular of the big band ska bands.
“Creepy Creepy” has a very Primus-like introduction, with a bouncy, western down scale bass line. The vocals nervously follow the melody at first, and burst through the swing-revival-ska with a bold, powerful chorus. It then repeats over again for round two: verse and explode to a fast bar brawl and swing section, spinning out of control until the verse quiets down and deviously takes over. The song finishes out in a sci-fi surf style bass groove that basically counts us out of the song.

“Break Even” is a poppy ska song, with more Come On Eileen and Bosstones spirit than anything wacky or complex. Even the vocals are deeper and stereotypically a harmonized group-shout. That does not take away from the song’s solid composition and smart & simple style. If you listen too hard, though, you do pick up elements that were popularized by the likes of Hootie & The Blowfish or Blues Traveller. Overall, the song is very anthemic. (Unfortuantely the song skips once or twice, and was recorded from vinyl at too high a volume to sound crisp & clear)
Frankie Machine Garden” starts with a ska-pop-punk swagger in the beginning, and quickly identifies itself as smooth Ska, that sounds a little like Sublime’s more palatable material. At 1:45 a voice that is trying very very hard to sound like the bosstones takes over for a verse, but gives up quickly and the smooth crooning voice takes the reigns back.

Overall the album had potential, but squandered it by trying to be too mainstream, hitting all the genre stereotypes. This would have been a much better, and might have weathered the years better, had they tried to expand on the Creepy Creepy sound, and not try to cover the well tread ground. 

Stand Out Track: Break Even

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