Hearing Aide: Howardian ‘A Smurf At Land’s End’

Brooklyn-based band Howardian has released their sophomore album, A Smurf At Land’s End. The group records and operates under the name Howardian, but the band is fronted by and more commonly identified by Ian Vanek.  It’s seemingly more common for artists to brand themselves with the musicians they work with, even when the bulk of the recognition and creative distinction stems from that lead singer or performer.

Howardian has labeled themselves as an “art rock” band, and that genre is defined by noticeable influences from classical music and/or music that features experimental avant-garde styles.  One listen through the album and the unique, experimental nature of the compilation is quite evident. This is a prime example of genre bending: pop, hip-hop, punk, and rock.

Samples of pre-recorded voices of short monologues give the tracks more meaning and allow listeners to identify any potential significance for the inclusion.  It’s hard to pinpoint who is speaking in these voiceovers; they could be from noteworthy individuals or events.

In “Over the Laptop,” you can clearly hear Vanek’s vocals doubled with two separate takes. This technique gives the track a fuller sound, but also gives it an indie flair with the vocal pitches not 100% congruent with each other.  The indie-esque sound is reinforced with the percussion; the snare sounds authentic and not of the best quality.  “Front Street” uses a video game power-up sound every two measures which is a unique timbre that nicely juxtaposes the heavily distorted power chords throughout.  

“I’m The Ocean” is quite repetitive in nature and it’s important to note that it’s purely instrumental.  The repetitive melodic lines make listeners feel like they are sifting through a monotonous flow of ocean waves.  “Cap’n Such n’ Such” is interesting because the instruments are playing a pretty standard of a rock groove, but the syncopated hook spelling out the band’s name is a bit hip-hop eqsue. “Fulton Mall” is the song that is closest to a standard pop song due to its immensely repetitive nature and backing vocals.

There doesn’t seem to be one central theme in terms of album’s subject matter, but there is a distinct flow in terms of style that makes the album work.  The instrumental parts of the tracks are not overwhelmingly challenging.  The musicianship is evident, but each song is quite simply outlined with basic beats and chord progressions.  The synth is a crucial element in almost all of the tracks as it breaks up the streams of vocal phrases with a simple top line. However the lack of virtuosity seems to be what the band is getting at.  The band’s sound is quite unique in terms of non-musical elements.  The music seems to be an outlet for artistic freedom, and not a way to showcase high-caliber musical talent.  This album is a cool listen if you wish to diversify your aural palette of music and experience something new.

Key Tracks: Over the Laptop, Capn’ Such n’ Such, Front Street

http://www.youtube.com/embed?layout=gallery&listType=playlist&list=UUKJ8qe7vCz4SztGjuZ2gm9A