Howard Louis – Survival Mode & Things

 Howard Louis – Survival Mode & Things

Howard Louis – Survival Mode & Things – EP Review

Dude’s always been a good singer, and he’s sounding as solid as ever with the way he opens up his new Survival Mode & Things EP with “I Don’t Trust Myself.”  Fun fact – he’s got this cut so perfectly on each end of the song that if you play it on a loop, in a couple repetitions, you probably won’t have any idea where it actually starts or stops…it’s unnervingly seamless.  Good tune though – fairly internalized to a large degree, this is definitely Howard writing about Howard, but we all gotta write about something, right?  I’d still reckon that a lot of you out there will connect with that feeling of finding out you’re the unreliable narrator of your own life…I know I’ve been there.  Eventually you’ve just gotta embrace it I figure…”I Don’t Trust Myself” as far as I can throw me, but yet I’m still the most trustworthy person I know too.  I guess I can’t throw other people as far.  Howard’s vocals are what make this track as great as it is…he could probably sing about anything at all and I’d love it when he’s at his melodic best like he is on this opening track.  Musically, it’s pretty…no objections.  I like this a lot better than the last single I heard from him, that I can confirm.  Ultimately I think he’s made the right calls here in letting his golden voice lead the way & be the main star of the show.  The rest is all good, but it’s definitely the supporting act.  He might not trust himself, but his confidence as a performer proves to be intact as it’s ever been.  “I Don’t Trust Myself” has a mix of beautiful & bold melody, and it’s an enticing start to his new EP.

“What You Think” has a bit of a dustier sound to its production by comparison to the first track, but it’s nothing too detrimental.  I dig the live-feel it has…to me, that’s worth the trade-off for a little of that typical studio polish.  All-in-all, I might have to give the music in this track the main award…the guitar tones from Chris Rozik are off-the-charts awesome, and the drums flat out do their best to steal the whole show.  Which is interesting in itself too…I kept kind of going back and forth between whether or not I even really liked the way that the drums actually sound…and honestly, I’m still not entirely sure.  What I can tell ya, is that Frank Coppola Bove is a seriously remarkable talent – this dude can PLAY y’all.  The cymbals come out sounding stellar, I suppose I just felt like the rest of the kit needed a bit more beef to the sound, that’s all.  When it comes to what Bove can do with the kit, that’s a whole other story – this guy is undoubtedly an all-star.  “What You Think” feels like you’ve wandered into one of the best Wednesday night open-mic jams you’ll find, where you witness one of those magic moments come together right in front of your eyes and ears.  This song is still clearly rehearsed…but yeah…it’s somehow still got that ‘in the moment’ feel to it, which is exciting.  Everyone seems to be goin’ with the flow here, and there’s value in that.  Howard sings it well, and the song has got some edge & a bit of wildness to it, which also highlighting a smoother-than-smooth in the pocket groove in spots like around the 1:45 mark before you head on into a solo.  At 2:22, it rips by pretty quick…there’s not really a ton to a song like “What You Think” other than letting a group of pros do what they do best, and so that’s what they do.

“Out To Sea” is one of those well-written tunes where you kind of stand back and wonder if the effort put into it will yield something similar in how it’s received.  And clearly, you’d hope that it will…but no good deed goes unpunished in the pursuit of art.  More often than not, it’s the songs we put the most work into – you know, our own personal favorites as creators, that tend to not get as much recognition as we’d like’em to in the court of public opinion.  I’d bet on “Out To Sea” possibly being one of those tunes.  Objectively, there’s nothing wrong with it at all, and actually a whole lot going right with it – it’s just one of those varied, mid-tempo tunes, which is usually heckin’ confusing for the majority of listeners.  Rozik is the star of the show on this particular track to me, the dude’s got some really amazing tones emanating outta that axe, and he’s clearly loaded with talent as a musician.  All these players are, Howard included of course…they all hold their own, but they each seem to get their own moment in the spotlight from track to track as well.  “Out To Sea” is the deeper cut on this record I guess…it’s a songwriter’s song, you feel me?  It has appeal to it, it has tangible hooks as well, but for the most part it’s a track more dominated by its shifting moods and artistic traits…and that’s something that can often go either way when it comes to how listeners will receive it.  Is it the single?  No.  The first track still has the market cornered on that when it comes to this EP…but I think within a few spins, most people would appreciate the depths of “Out To Sea” and its darker spin on Americana/Folk.  That’s about as close as it gets to labelling this track with some kind of accuracy beyond just Pop/Rock, which would technically also qualify.  It’s got that nearly sea-shanty feel to it at times, which is usually something you’d find in the Folk realm, and its storyteller vibe is very much closer to Americana…I mean…it’s really both and neither of those things at the same time.  Mystery?  Can that be a genre for music instead of movies?

Ahhhh…hmm…I don’t mind “Hurricane” – but I also kind of feel like Howard might have slightly missed an opportunity with this one.  He’s working somewhat within the quiet/loud framework, but the louder part of that equation doesn’t really come through with the full force that I feel like it needed to make the impact that it should, you know what I mean?  It’s not as much of a shift out of the low-key vibes he’s created for the verse…and it’s hard not to feel like “Hurricane” has more potential than we find.  Louis is a highly controlled type of singer…that’s who he is, that’s just how he’s built – and in moments like this, you can hear how it works both for and against him.  Tone-wise, he’s perfect, because of course he is…you rarely find him slipping out of place in that regard, if ever.  When the song shifts into what’s a decisively deadly rhythm and groove for the chorus, and the concept itself is basically referring to a kind of personal chaos…I gotta go with the opinion that you gotta go with what the song is calling for, you dig?  If there was a point in time where Howard needed to let loose and get a lil’ wild with it, I’d say that this was that very moment…but he opts for a much more controlled approach, staying well within his wheelhouse.  It ain’t bad by any stretch of the imagination…I’m just saying that this song had the potential to be a powerful standout based on the writing and structure it has.  You can hear it kind of going for that within the shifting loud/quiet dynamics…but it does feel more restrained than perhaps it should be.  Could just be the way I’m hearing it, I never say I’ve got the end all, be all opinion…but yeah – listen to the spark that Louis adds to the end by adding in a bit of vocal effects…that’s the kind of thing that could have been very effective earlier on, or even just raising up his own energy when singing “my mind’s a hurricane” so that we hear the conviction behind the words and really feel what he’s singing about.  Still sounds good though, I’ll give him that…and it’s really only fair to judge music by what we hear is there as opposed to what’s not…but I’ve gotta be THAT dude that always encourages the whole community to dig as deep as they possibly can to get the most out of what they do in every moment.

All-in-all, Survival Mode & Things seems to have Howard Louis going in four completely separate directions…which makes for an experience that has lots of variation, but also feels a little bit like he’s searching for the one that will suit him best for the future going forward.  With his gift for melody & sparkling vocals as his guiding star…I’m always confident that our most undeniable strengths illuminate the best pathway forward.

Survival Mode & Things is set to be release online this November 3rd – you can find it at Bandcamp with exclusive bonus tracks at Howard’s page:

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