Saturday, May 20, 2017

ANDREW HOWIE “Scars Are Like a Beacon” (Autoclave Records)




Scottish singer-songwriter Andrew Howie’s The Great Divide was a completely different recording than Scars Are Like a Beacon. Howie normally plies a full-band, guitar-based alternative style on most of his output, and The Great Divide sounded like an absolute triumph in that regard. Immaculately recorded, it fell somewhere right between the type of music released by his fellow countrymen Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks. That’s good company.

But like all restless artists, Howie basically wanted nothing to do with The Great Divide after it came out, content instead to move beyond it to the next thing. That’s his MO. Only this time, his MO caused him to pause, glance back over his shoulder at The Great Divide sitting there, all alone in its shrinkwrap, and say to say under his breath, but mostly to himself, “Maybe I’m not done with you yet.

And he wasn’t.

Inspired (understandably) by Tim Hecker and William Basinski, Howie took the stems from The Great Divide and fully reworked them, allowing them to stretch, breathe, expand, then decay, in the process becoming something fully and completely other than what they were on The Great Divide. And Scars Are Like a Beacon, in my opinion, is a more interesting listen, a puzzle to piece together how these ethereal, ambient results came from what is essentially rock music.

With his newfound case of “the drones,” Howie recontextualized his music away from something aiming toward mass appeal, reflecting instead an inner vulnerability expressed only through wordless meditation. The tones he generates over the entire tape are gorgeous, angelic, fragile, ready to wisp away when you’re not paying attention. Maybe it’s too obvious, but there’s a distinct connection at times to the opening of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the part before the guitars come in. I’m a big softy at heart, so I love that kind of stuff. Sounds like Andrew Howie is too. We’d probably get along.

Andrew Howie
Autoclave Records

--Ryan Masteller

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