It seems everyone who owns Don’t Drink His Blood knows that its lyrical content is darker than expected and that it discusses commercial media seduction. But this is not an album to buy for its lyrical depth; its focus is on musical composition, and its content is quite original. In fact, Howard Hello is extremely difficult to compare to any single artist, as the music combines so many different elements into one complete package.
This is the second outing for Howard Hello, a collaboration between Kenseth Thibideau (Tarentel, Rumah Sakit, Pinback), who writes and produces the songs, and Marty Anderson (Lazarus, Dilute). Like their eponymous debut, released in 2002, Don’t Drink His Blood is full of innocent melody and layers of nearly-unrecognizable instruments.
The music sounds like the album’s cover art looks — drawn in crayon with the simplicity and sweetness of a 5-year-old. But this is where the musical description gets complicated; while it recalls childhood innocence because it sounds so light and lovely, it is so much more complex and perfectly whole.
There clearly exists the presence of acoustic and electric guitars, a keyboard, and several percussion sources. Were I to liken Howard Hello to any combination of artists, it would most likely be a mesh of Explosions in the Sky, Steve Burns and Jimmy Eat World in the days of Clarity — instrumental synth-pop with a slightly orchestral background, perhaps. Though Steve Burns and Howard Hello both have the innocent, youthful but solid musical depth, Howard Hello actually sounds grown up. This does not, by any means, refer to the specific artists in mind, but to the sound that would appeal to the most mature audience.
Don’t Drink His Blood is beautiful. While “Giving Up” almost sounds a bit like Donna Lewis’ once-upon-a-time hit, “I Love You Always Forever,” this can be forgiven because it flows well, providing a transitional bridge between “Intro” and “And As Always, Night Turns Into Day.”
The album feels like one large transition, actually. The pairing of “My Friend” and “The Parasite” combines ant-like backing vocals with circular acoustic melody. Yes, they sound circular — if music were a shape, this pair of songs would be played in a circle. Or more accurately, a tumbling Slinky.
Perhaps the darkest feel comes from seventh track “Truth,” in which the line “I tried to be my own” is delivered nearly in the manner of Marilyn Manson’s growl, a la “Sweet Dreams.” How is this possible? I have no idea. It just is. In actuality, this is essentially the only explanation I can give for the album as a whole. It just is.
This album is ideal for anyone who enjoys long, drawn-out instrumental songs, and who doesn’t? Yes, I ask this half-sarcastically. I admit it: You do have to be a bit patient to enjoy slow instrumental music. But Howard Hello creates an addition to the genre that makes the listener wonder what will happen next with each song that arrives. For the listener who does not simply skim through a CD while driving (or reviewing an album … ), Howard Hello’s Don’t Drink His Blood may become the album that should have been placed on a “Best of 2003” list but was forgotten about. While it may be too late to add the album to the list, I’m sure Howard Hello would be forgiving enough to accept a place on a mental favorites list.