Detroit Metro Times
My predecessor here reviewed this album when it was first released locally. But now that it's available internationally, with the band recently embarking on a U.S. tour, it might be time for me to weigh in and say, unequivocally, that this is one fine collection of songs. With Howl..., the Go help Detroit to bury that whole "garage" rock association (which, let's face it, became a bit of an unfortunate stigma) once and for all.
The overall sound here is somewhat reminiscent of L.A.'s neopsychedelic Paisley Underground scene ... if the Paisley Underground had produced better songs. And the Go has two terrific songwriters in Bobby Harlow and John Krautner. The two wear their influences on their sleeves, be it the Kinks (Harlow sounds positively Ray Davies-ish on both "Yer Stoned Italian Cowboy" and the wonderful "She's Prettiest When She Cries"), the Small Faces, Jefferson Airplane (a comparison that might even surprise them), the Beach Boys, the Beatles ... hell, it again may not be intentional, but the glorious "Mary Ann" appears to cop a brief reference from the Four Seasons in its charming opening moments (which would make sense in the grand scheme of things). And yet, it's all distinctive enough to totally sound like no one but the Go, making the group part of a now-fading but still occasionally surprising chain.
The riff-driven "Mercurial Girl" is hard-driving, hard-rocking psychedelic pop; the aforementioned "She's Prettiest ..." a pure pop-meets-bubblegum instant classic, simply overflowing with melody and irresistible melancholy. It takes a lot of chutzpah to name songs "Caroline" and "Mary Ann" (which Harlow and Krautner, respectively and individually, have done here), two of the archetypal girl names in past great rock songs. And yet they've come up with new compositions that actually compete or at least can still stand tall in great company. The Go aren't reinventing the wheel here so much as demonstrating that the wheel still has plenty of tread left. And Howl on the Haunted Beat You Ride, despite its somewhat pretentious title, is as good as any rock album I'm sure I'm going to hear this year. - Bill Holdship
Real Detroit Weekly
Howl is that rare, beautiful kind of mysterious album that can reveal new aural
“I wasn’t born in the ‘60s, I’m not trying to relive my youth, I’m in my youth,” The Go’s lead singer Bobby Harlow says as he lights another cigarette after being asked how he feels about journalists writing things like “The Go are stuck in the ‘60s.”
“I have no idea why I don’t like modern music, I don’t know why Mark (Fellis, drums), Jimmy (McConnell, guitar) or John (Krautner, bass) don’t either. We were not made for these times, I don’t know why.”
Two years ago, The Go, (a Detroit rock institution and prominent member of the glory days aristocracy from the 1999-ish era) was flirting dangerously close with its own possible break-up, born from frustrations over the songs they were playing and some gloomy showcase shows populated by those cold, blank-stared label suits. This was the band that got signed to SubPop based on living room recordings and their wild live show ... the first great hope from those days to have a door opened to them ...
But things went south with the label when The Go were paired to tour with ragamuffin cock rockers.”We thought they’d gotten it,” says Bobby of the band’s initial reaction to SubPop, “but then we realized they didn’t get it.” And, worse, SubPop had no intentions of signing the Detroit Cobras, Demolition Doll Rods or any of The Go’s other comrades from Detroit. (Not to mention the massive tiff The Go had with the label over releasing their second album.)
Thus, after a quasi-break/damn-near conclusion, The Go have returned — as was evidenced by the “boys are back in town” vibe hovering over their most recent performances. “Everybody else needed a break,” Bobby says, “but this is all I do. If I don’t make music then I may as well go live in a cave, or work at McDonald's for the rest of my life and get a lobotomy … so I thought about doing a record on my own and started to record some.”
The quartet reunited in the basement of Mr. Bowen, an elderly, hard-of-hearing gent, and John’s unofficial grandpa, to record, in grassroots style, Howl On The Haunted Beat You Ride — The Go’s most diverse, angular, exploratory batch of jangly poppers, strung-out, blood-shot acoustic reflections and freakbeat anthems — the sound of street-smart swagger mixed with a humanism that most other mundane rock acts could only dream of having.
“Everything’s going great,” John says on the phone the next day. “We’ve been in the lab for the last couple years and now we’re back in action.”
“It seems like the existence of The Go has always been a bit shakey,” I suggest, recalling SubPop’s mishandling of their first tour, Dave Buick’s early exit from The Go and the “all-out war” that was waged between the band and SubPop over their second album, Free Electricity. “But now things feel more settled?”
John agrees, but “I think there’s eeriness about comfort,” he laughs. “’Wait a minute, everything’s going really well,’” he mocks in a paranoid tone. “It has to do with us taking the initiative ourselves,” as the band took an organic approach and recorded at home on their own time while venturing down boundless experimentation. “I think Bobby taking the controls as producer and engineer has helped everybody.” Many of the songs have gone through numerous transformations — the single “You Go Bangin’ On” having five different versions — the meticulousness and attention to detail is marvelous.
Vision and precision is also something The Go’s preferred visual artist, Michael Wartella, who “worked practically every detail on this album by hand,” implements in his art. Wartella also may have a hand in animating a video for the single. “He did the entire album free of charge because he likes the music,” says Bobby, though some free LPs were awarded.
Howl is that rare, beautiful kind of mysterious album that can reveal new aural idiosyncrasies with each listen — warm, distinctive melodies over melodic, convivial guitars unabashedly conjuring psychedelic Brit-pop narratives, a subdued feedback sandwiching a subtle keyboard melody … all the while you’re lulled by catchy percussion rhythms serenely attuned with the wayward but declarative, Harrison-esque guitar heroics.
Because of all the tenacious concern poured into the hours of recording, the sound, the album, literally has a heart; it greets you with a hug, a wink, sometimes inviting you to dance, other times solemnly bringing you back to reality. The production is astounding.
Lounging in his living room, seated beside his cat (who I think doesn’t like me), Bobby regales me with the harried tale of misaligned lavishness and foggy jubilance surrounding the recording of 2003’s self-titled in a swank “all-inclusive” UK studio that provides bands “anything you want ...” which led to a stressful rerecording helmed by Bobby weeks later, during which he “cut his teeth” as a producer.
“You know what you want now, as a producer?” I ask, as he lays the needle on a Traffic record he particularly likes. “I think I always have, I just listen to the same records all the time ... I’m not a record collector, I just have the classic records that I’ve never stopped listening to. I take mental notes; I don’t have anything in my record collection that isn’t useful to me. I never wanted to be in that position (producer) because I knew it would be awkward, with my equal partners in the band … to be able to make certain calls … The experience of this record,” he pauses and he puts it cryptically, but his point is made well, “was sitting in a chair, staring into a speaker for two years.” Bobby holds his hands out and his eyes glaze over. It’s obvious how much he’s put into this record.
The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Traffic, The Rolling Stones, T-Rex, The Who ... and The Beatles — the sounds that travel through the ears of The Go are blueprints for their chronicled musical narratives.
The Go recently played PeaceJam in Colorado, “filled, not exaggerating, with a whole audience of 15-year-old kids,” Bobby says. “They freaked out! They said we were ‘like The Rolling Stones,’ but they can’t go see The Stones in their prime, so a band that maybe has a little of that spirit ... I mean, we can hero-worship The Who all we want, but unless people aim to make music that’s in that vein, creatively, then that’s lost forever and the closest thing we’ll ever get to it is a DVD.”
“So, do you feel rejuvenation?” I ask. “A bit,” Bobby says, “a bit of a weight lifted. I’m more confident now, in where we are as friends, than I’ve ever been in the past — I think it’s the strongest band we’ve ever had. Jimmy’s a big part of that. He really committed; he was really serious when he joined The Go.”
John says the songwriting process has changed since he acquired his own four-track, beforehand having not been too deep on the technical aspect of recording, but now he’s writing his own material much more than before. “The songs you’re writing, what are the influences?” I ask. “Inspiration comes from the weirdest places, as you know,” John says, “but, uhh … cartoons?” he laughs warmly. “Girl-type situations, too. When things are going good in that department, you have to hearken back to time when they weren’t so good and tap that well.”
This is a band that started during a time (‘98) when technology (i.e. the Internet) had not strangled the musical community with its overwhelming, communicable influence … and it now exists after … with Bobby running the band blog and John constantly scanning the blogosphere (having been smitten by the wonderful world of Portugese psyche-pop!).
The Internet’s sea change is welcomed by John: “I feel like it just had to happen,” he says. “The obese-cartoon-looking-guy-smoking-a-cigar-behind-a-desk was making way too much money as far as I’m concerned.”
Regarding Free Electricity, “We didn’t wanna make the record to get kicked off the label,” says John, though that’s what happened with SubPop. “We said, 'OK, we made this weird record that none of us knew what we were doing called Whatcha Doin', now let's go in and make a record that we really concentrate on and make it sound like all our favorite psyche records.'”
Needless to say, SubPop was not pleased — but conspiracy theories posit simple bitterness over The Go’s lack of permission from the label to record may have been the cause for the quarrel.
“We’re chiming in, we’re still doing it,” Bobby says. “We’re not going away.”
“We had to think — maybe we could pick up a hammer and try something else," jokes John, "but it didn’t take long for us to realize none of us know how to pick up a hammer, so we have to do this whether we like it or not.” | RDW