Howl Griff – Fragile Diamond – album review

Howl Griff – Fragile Diamond (Dockrad Records)
CD / DL
Available to stream now, released October 2012

We gave you one review of this album yesterday but it’s been popular with our reviewers so here is Steve Mcgillivray’s view of the third album from the Anglo-Welsh indie rock band.

I must admit Howl Griff were a new name on me, so it was a surprise to learn that Fragile Diamond was to be the Anglo-Welsh-American bands third album, coming after a Welsh language debut and an English language follow up. The English language album – The Hum – generated a bit of buss on BBC 6Music, with Lauren Laverne being credited with calling it “bloody lush”.

Album number three (also in English) fairly springs into life with ‘You Don’t Have To Leave On Your Own’. There’s a good, high tempo with a nice “lush” (thanks Lauren!) guitar and a rambling bass. Vocally it’s understated on verses and gets more intense on the chorus. It’s definitely a song with some commercial appeal and has quite a nice groove on verses.

‘Fragile Diamond’ has a nice, warm feel to it. Again, the guitar is rather nice. The tempo is steady and drags you along with a gentle hand on the back. Amazingly, the song is inspired by a family member of one of the band, who had a baby two years after the father had died, thanks to IVF. It’s a really good track with a back story like no other I’ve ever heard. There’s a good drum beat and fuzzy guitar on the intro to ‘Sharkfins In The Sky’. Another guitar comes in firing nice riffs and overall the song has a ’60s garage feel to it, which as everyone should know means it’s pretty good.

‘Radio Revolution’ opens with a bright, sparkly guitar before the rhythm section and some chanted vocals join in, giving the whole track a jaunty feel. There’s a sense of a bygone age again, which considering the backing vocals were recorded with a bunch of regulars from the local pub acoustic night is no mean feat. While the wheel may not be getting reinvented here, it’s certainly got a lot of good moments.

‘Runaround’ is another with a good guitar and some call and response vocals, but there’s always a sense you want the track to kick into gear and really blossom, but it stays in the same groove.

‘Meet My Maker’ is another track with a remarkable back story, namely frontman Howl Griff being struck temporarily blind while driving on the M4! It’s a much more sombre affair, initially, which after a brush with death is probably obvious. The guitar is really nice and has a folk feel to it. It builds when the electric guitar and rhythm section come in. There’s also a really good piano, that adds another dimension to the track. Definitely one of my favourites.

‘Puppet Operation Time’ also goes down the acoustic route in the intro. Strumming the notes, the guitar is joined by the electric guitar and the song picks up it’s pace. The bass wanders around to excellent effect, while the drums skip along nicely. There’s even a clarinet thrown in and the joy of all joys, a little handclap – the barometer of a good song. There’s a good riff, and cracking rhythm section on ‘She Walks on by the Flame’. The bass dominates, pumping out the rhythm on a great intro. It has a slightly edgier feel to it that the other tracks thanks mainly to that bass and drums and the good tempo and rhythm are kept up throughout.

The tempo is high again on ‘Rose of Emily’. Drums lead the way this time, aided by a jolly bass line. It makes me feel like I’m in a barn dance and it’s all quite tongue in cheek, good fun. Vocally it feels a little like Neil Hannon and while not the best track on the album, it’s certainly great fun.

‘Füssbükkër’ kicks off like a Led Zeppelin cutting, but without the fearsome edge. There’s a touch of electronic trickery on the vocals, giving them an interesting warble and echo effect. The beat is steady and solid, but does feel like Zep-lite a little bit. The tempo is good on ‘International Dateline’, a love song about Samoa changing time zones. The harmonies are good and the guitars keep the song moving forward, while that lovely bass does it’s thing down in the mix.

The album draws to a close on ‘Everything’. A nice, growling guitar riff, not unlike Eric Clapton, kicks things off. The bass and drums sound nice and urgent, while the vocal has more of an edge to it. Again, not the most original sound, but it’s good nonetheless. The chorus shimmers in contrast to the darker verses and creates a nice counterpoint. A pretty good track to end on.

Overall, I thought this was a decent album. It’s probably not something I’d listen to myself, but I am still appreciative of it’s merits. Particularly it’s undoubted commercial appeal. It has the hooks, the harmonies and the rhythms that will get it deserved airplay.

There are some really great moments, with ‘Meet My Maker’ and ‘Everything’ two of the better tracks, but there’s a sense that you will have heard some of it before. Now, clearly this can be said of a lot of music, so it’s an observation rather than a criticism.

It’s an album that left me conflicted in the end. It had many merits, but I had some nagging doubts too.

All words by Steve Mcgillivray. You can read more from Steve on LTW here.

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