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A reflection on “Near and Far” by Rob Spectre

Published vis Shafted! (www.arturogottheshaft.com)

The underground folkrok duo howie&scott released their sophomore, self-produced release in April to a pack of fans with a loyalty bordering on vermicious. Still the best kept secret of the South Central Nebraska music scene, the eclectic sound of the Crete rock pair has matured considerably from the days of Bigger Sounds from Fewer Folk; a maturity that has left the initial core of the h&s vibe largely intact. Strange, experimental chords, odd time signatures, thumping world beats, and Scott Morris’ blazing sax virtuosity all remain in the new record, though some surprises are in store for every listener.

Overall, the CD represents a new sort of accessibility that had been lacking from their previous list. Shorter track times mark the sign of a clear sensibility from the band, with this release lacking the self-indulgent introductions and instrumental breaks from BSfFF. Additionally, either through design or disaster, several easy-going crowd pleasers can be found on the record, though you are never more than a few tracks away from some serious howie&scott experimental sound. Big steaming portions from the Howie Howard lyrical cutlet are served up fresh and tender for the discriminating diner of verbosity and the bright, defined sound of his dissonant rhythm has remained untouched through the evolution from Bigger Sounds. Scott has raised the bar yet again on Near and Far, introducing a deep percussion sound that touches the lower intestine in a way that was distinctly missing from the band’s debut. Largely, the feeling from the comparison is not a feeling of evolution in an ugly, No Doubt, sincerity demolishing sense, but that of two experimental folkers all grown up and prepared to rock you until it hurts to keep thinking.

The progressive, thoughtful vibe of the record begins with Staircase. All you ever wanted from the second record is quickly satisfied with HowieÕs percussive progression leading the way. An excellent introduction to the album, Staircase prepares one for some fuller sounds from fewer folk, adding finally the sonorous Scott to compliment Howie’s voice, not quite yet free from the days of covering Dave Matthews but bringing a gut to his latent rasps. Ultimately, Staircase prepares the listener for some truly kicka** songs, a preparation quite necessary for Cornerstone.

Throwing a wrench quickly into the listener’s rhythm, Howard croons over the dissonant, unsettling bed of sound colored by an occasional scream from Scott’s sax. This song has a much different feel from what an h&s fan would expect, with a sound touched clearly by a spooky reverb that keeps the listener disconcerted until the chorus pulls you back from the edge of your chair. There is some difficulty making out Howie’s lyrics through the muddy echo of the tune, which is quite a pity to deprive the initial listener of such poetry, but the theme is seared into your soul as the song bleeds into Well. Scott sounds like a siren from an unholy pit, with Howard providing additional needle touches on the guitar.

The reward for descent into Well is Fourbee, an even more unsettling surprise than Cornerstone. From the metaphysical depths of Cornerstone, howie&scott remind us all of youthful joy with this pop song peppered by Scott’s conga clacks. A radio-ready track densely compacting all that which is h&s in a easy digestable 3:49 tablet, Howie doesn’t let his pop song get too mindless, ensuring that the final thought keeps you cogitating into You Have The Go-Ahead.

A soft introduction to Nexus, howie&scott pair to bring Howard’s lyrics into the spotlight. This song brings one back to a mindset evoked by Bigger Sounds, though with craftsmanship indicative of the band’s new studio seasoning. Perhaps the best example of the h&s adhesion to their original sound, the guitar driven track pays homage to their loyal fans, and we can’t expect to fall.

From the punk allusions presented towards the end of Nexus, the album flirts with the Dark Side by presenting an anthem of frustration. With an introduction keeping the listener guessing, The Broken Anger doesn’t stray from a tried and true folkrok formula of healthy rhythm — and dischordant misanthropy.

My personal favorite of the record, Place Where Something Fell is as progressive as the title suggests, chock full of provocatively vague lyrics. The harmony between Howard and Morris is somewhat strained at times, but again badass songwriting evokes a righteous indignation that simply cannot be quelled. The conclusion of the song in Outside the Crater is a slow, easy letdown into the thoughtful groove that follows.

Marked by a percussive guitar line and Scott’s airy echo of flute, You Already Know The Answer and I’m Not Joking may be the most experimental song on the album. A dense, busy song hardly for the faint of heart, howie&scott’s multi-instrumentality is a flag proudly waved here. Perhaps the most discordant, confusing finish to a song since Weezer’s Pinkerton, the heart of the album’s free experimentation is properly placed here.

But, before the record takes itself too seriously, Scott’s solo debut brings a snap to the fingers and a smile to the face. Fully illustrating Howie’s jazz influence, this uncharacteristic track on an uncharacteristic CD brings fun back to the long journey since Fourbee. A scatacular and sparkling homage set to a jazzy groove that would make Louis Armstrong smile.

Constellations kicks up quickly with the deep, thunderous boom of Scott’s djembe and the spirited strumming of Howard’s Takamine. A laidback tune of galactic proportions, with possibly the finest rhymes of the record. Certainly another classic h&s track, it provides a climax true to the original sound of howie&scott and an excellent segue way to the final song, Under My Protection.

Perhaps the entire record can be summed up in this tune. Experimentation, quality studio work, and a tenacious devotion to the original elements that keep howie&scott one of my favorite bands. Accessible to the new h&s listener and true to their original sound, Near and Far makes it easier than ever to come and join us.

I’m guessing on the date; clearly, it was not long after the record came out. -h, 2011

Last-minute Show Tonight

h&s will play a 45-minute acoustic set tonight (friday, may 7th) in Crete around 10 p.m.

The show is being put on by two fraternities, and will be held at the Tuxedo Park roller rink. h&s will take the stage around 10:00. 18+ show, and there will probably be a $2-3 cover at the door.

Directions: coming into town on Hwy 33 (from Lincoln, from the East), follow the highway through downtown. When the highway curves to the left (south) a block or two after Casey’s, follow the road straight over the railroad. Take the first paved right (north) turn, follow the road over the bridge into Tuxedo Park. All the cars will be at the roller rink.

Update

there are happenings that don’t quite make the shows page, so i’ll summarize. but first, make sure you come to the lincoln-music.com kickoff show next friday, may 14th, with h&s, westside proletariat, and J.V. All*stars.

now, other news. tonight (may 7) howie will play acoustic at the UCC church, around 7:00 p.m., followed by a local band that is currently Nameless. friday night (may 9) howie will play an acoustic set at doane around 9:30 for the APE event on campus. saturday we’re playing a party, which includes a nice check so celebrate that with us (we need it). come to Doane’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew” at 7:30 p.m saturday night outside in cassell theatre, and head down to the Isis for the 11:00 showing of Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” film. sweet!

shacker is beginning to take “blackbeard’s revenge” in PROJECT:ECHO this week – the results will be one of the first things posted at the soon-to-be-launched mr. furious site. you can catch shacker’s final live performance thursday night, may 13, at the world-famous Zoo Bar in Lincoln with Strawberry Burns. -h

If You…

were at tonight’s show with Life in General, I hope you feel you were a part of a great night of music. I do. Jason and Jerry’s songs are part of my experience of these years, and hearing their music has me both comforted, and with the idea of being on the tips of my toes at the edge of something else – who knows when or where their music and ours will cross paths again? Saying “thanks” is too impersonal to give words to the friendship that Jason and Jerry have extended. Nights like these are why I like to venture out of the studio to play, and maybe also why you like to come and listen (or sing along). -h

Reflections on tonight’s show

h&s played tonight at St. Paul’s Underground in Lincoln, and it is our best show. some moments include…

discovering St. Paul’s parking garage – perfect, because this show holds the absolute record for most-h&s-gear-taken.

an audience of many friends, some family, and a few new faces.

better-than-average stage banter.

big “astroblue” jam during soundcheck.

most effortless-feeling rock show yet – it’s hard, we’re doing so many things to make all the right sounds. scottie and i were in the same groove all night.

amazing tone in the house… there is nothing like when a band sounds good.

playing old songs “Broken Anger” (electric), “Under My Protection,” and “Just Around the Corner.”

“Tired Chords” acoustic.

“Houston” and “E. Morning (Ressurection)” electric.

fulfilling my rock fantasy of people standing in the front and jumping (“After the Countdown”)

covering DMB’s “#41” with tim jensen on djembe for old times’ sake.

friends moving their chairs up close for the acoustic set.

first-ever piano performances of “What Sounds Are Real?,” and “Choose To”

the seconds of silence after “Another Song About Falling (Staircase).”

help loading equipment!

scott had a flat tire on the way home.

i’m having a 3 a.m. bowl of honeycombs.

-h

signs.comets In Stores

to summarize, here are all the ways you can get a copy of “signs.comets” (there were several news stories about this spread out, but i collected them).

TrueValue in Crete (12th & Main)
Doane College Bookstore (Perry Campus Center)
HOMER’s locations (in Lincoln and Omaha)
come to a live h&s rock show
email howie and work it out via snail mail.