With the release of her second album in a year Howling Bells’ lead singer Juanita Stein is certainly not hanging around in establishing herself as a solo act, having also toured with the likes of The Killers and Bryan Ferry. On this new album ‘Until The Lights Fade’ the dreamy Americana sound she created on her debut (one of my favourite albums of 2017) is combined with a return to her indie rock roots, resulting in a confident and catchy collection of songs.
Opening track All The Way is a bridge from the sound of her previous album, with atmospheric electric guitars illuminating her haunting voice. To find a way forward sometimes you have to go back and think about what came before. Ideas about freedom, change and the future recur throughout the album.
Second song Forgiver instantly ups the gears and the momentum of the album. Co written with Brandon Flowers of The Killers, this is a classic indie rocker, with nods to the sixties. There’s something intoxicating about the way she slows the song down to sing ‘nobody wants to be anybody’s else’s fool’ before blasting off in another direction. Later songs Silver Linings and Easy Street also continue in this rockier vein.
Get Back To The City raises the level further, being the catchiest and probably most memorable song of the album (and maybe even her solo career as a whole). The city here works as a metaphor for listening to your heart, going back to something familiar and comforting. What might seem like an admission of defeat instead sounds like strength. You do wonder if this might even be an assessment of the direction of her own musical career itself.
In Your Hands features some stylish guitars and the swirl of the song really builds into something lush. Cool has a similar swagger to it, as you might expect from that title. And hey this really is a cool sounding record from start to finish, just like the singer herself.
Release Me harks back to the western style of her debut, suggesting she’s not cutting all ties with that gothic country music she evoked so well before. Let me go, I need to fight, why don’t you release me tonight, she sings over twangy guitars. On Fast Lane she tells a tale of ‘two desert roses in the night’, trying to escape the shadows, maybe even finding solace in each other.
Final song French Films is the soundtrack to seduction and obsession. These stylish songs do play in my head like a grainy black and white western noir flick. When the film clicks off and the light fades out, you can’t fail to be impressed with what you’ve heard. This is the sound of an artist moving forward and finding her own way through the dark.