With Howl, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound enters the next chapter of its soul sound evolution. In December 2012, the band holed up at Hotel2Tango Studio in Montreal to work with producer Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and dove headfirst into previously unfamiliar sonic territories and tough-yet-transfixing lyrical matter. By approaching the new album with this direct and free outlook, what began with the raw soul of 2011’s Want More advances in new, exciting directions.
Throughout Howl, the dark side of love and longing is explored by frontman JC Brooks’s starkly personal lyrics and the Uptown Sound’s willingness to bare all their influences and let the groovesfall where they may. A collective evolution has been made where influence meets experience, and this organic progression results in 11 songs that are more open than ever both in message and vibe.
Howl is soul music by children of the post-punk era. It’s the sound of a band that cut its teeth listening to Purple Rain and In On the Killtaker, is drawn to the theatrical-cum-creative auras of Tina Turner and Otis Redding, and has most recently hustled big festival stages where adventurous listeners come away rejuvenated and undeniably converted.
With a taut minimalist blend of rock and R&B punctuating JC Brooks’s potent delivery and brutally honest words, Howl creates a mystique at the same time it induces sing-alongs and hip-shakes. Tracks like the eponymous “Howl” and “Rouse Yourself” are pleas for snapping out of emotional apathy, as in the latter when Brooks first coos in falsetto and then belts a cautionary chorus in harmony, “If we had forever / I hope we’d just get better / that’s why it’s such a shame / the ways we stay the same.”
Just as it embraces past artistic influences, Howl covers the range of emotion from celebratory pop to crestfallen ballad. “River” is vintage gospel narrative, complete with Brooks’s solo show-stopping, open-throated vocal sear, and a rhythm section that could’ve backed the Memphis greats during the ‘60s. “Before You Die” struts with the carefree, party atmosphere of Tom Tom Club with auxiliary percussion, handclaps, and some Bernie Worrell psychedelic-pop wall of synth.