Draping a punk rock blueprint with swathes of psych guitar effects, Charles Howl delivers a confident throwback debut. Coming off like The Horrors with a little less gravitas, Sir Vices sits comfortably within the current crop of popular psych rock from Pond to Hookworms. Out on vinyl LP from Ample Play.
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Okay this is the final psych album. We’re done. No-one release another one. It’s cool. Thanks. Thank you.
We’re reaching maximum capacity in psych rock, to the point where I actually, genuinely typed out Hookworms instead of Charles Howl about three times in this review and had to go back and comb through the blissed-out guitar mess. Fortunately, Charles Howl go the confounding extra mile, apologising for the usual scratchy riffs, distant guitar wails and repetitive grooves with something altogether twee. On “So Long”, they’re toying with the melodies of Belle & Sebastian; on the second, they’re straight-up referencing indie pop, regaling us with its primitive synth sound and lilting melodies while keeping the vibe focused, propulsive and forward. Psych rock bands love walking in a straight line.
‘Sir Vices’ is strikingly bubblegum, which is a relief: gloomy psych rock is basically a self-service checkout at this point, except when you choose Cancel All Items you’re charged £50 extra for complementary sunglasses. Charles Howl make light of their work, even traversing the sly, muted riffs of “Lunacy” (which is sung by the psych rock equivalent of Michael Gira) with cooed harmonies and a drumbeat that wouldn’t go amiss from Tame Impala’s pop hits. “Peace & Quiet” combines rollicking drum fills with short-fuse chords to create a shining, blinding light for you to squint your eyes at. I also have to give it up for psych rock bands who can gleefully use a tambourine in one song and then immediately muster up guitars as sweet as the ones in "Going Down".
I wish I could stop defending psych rock because I’m kind of hoping if we all just close our eyes for a month it’ll disappear, but bands like Charles Howl go and spoil it all by being actively enjoyable. This is sunshine music as filtered through the gloomy, echoed spaces of next-gen psych, then mixed with a sweet dosage of dream pop. Greg Wallace would approve. I think? I'll go ask him. He is bald. He probably works here.
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