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Ten Cent Howl
Dreamscape Americana
January 1, 2008
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So many massively popular American rock bands have drawn deep gulps from the Americana canon and evolved into something transcendent, like R.E.M., Camper Van Beethoven and Tom Waits, not to mention younger acts like Ryan Adams, the Decemberists, Jolie Holland, Bright Eyes and the many freak-folk groups out there. And Ten Cent Howl flirts with a similar transcendence on Dreamscape Americana (a title that evokes some sort of untouched, new sub-genre - maybe Ambient Electro meets rustic Country instrumentation?), without ever truly committing to the unifying aesthetic that could create a fresh musical identity.

At the edgier, more daring outskirts of Dreamscape Americana, Ten Cent Howl manages to evoke sounds similar to (at different moments) My Dad Is Dead, Cracker, the La’s and early Replacements, but never quite nails down a singular mode.

Less Americana, than early-Nineties college rock, the album starts out with a stunning opener, “Take My Love.” The song steeps an unending barrage of acoustic guitars, handclaps and spindly lead guitar lines into a simple and extremely catchy indie rock anthem. The slightly bent and distorted vocals act like another instrument, adding to the throng of percussive joy, especially as the climactic chorus swings into high gear with voices and instruments melding together from every angle as the group’s songwriting, lead-singing leader Bill Smith spits out the song’s titular demand, “You awake me and you take my love.”

On “Tranquility,” Smith allows his band’s drunken, stagger-step rhythms to flow throughout his country-fied, Michael Stipe yelp as he belts out a surreal white trash narrative: “Crazy babies calling for you and the police calling for me.” Elsewhere, “Evidence At Hand” finds the band enjoying a playful rock narrative, dropping its own zany mix of religion and philosophy over a solid rock track. “For A Long Time” is a delicate dip into acoustic melancholy and “The Fad” delivers a rock-out closer that could have anchored a stellar EP. But over the course of a long-playing disc, Ten Cent Howl falls upon to many uneven steps to warrant reverent return listening.

“Face Of An Angel” falls into a chronic slumber and progresses without an inkling of surprise. “Are We Fine” breaks itself with amateurish lyrics (“The clock is turning / the engines churning…”) more impressed with rhyming meter than meaning anything. As small missteps add up, it becomes obvious where Ten Cent Howl is heading and Dreamscape Americana never quite delivers the needed jolt to push the group out of formulaic posturing. The band has developed a solid set of rock skills, now it’s time for a bit of evolution for Ten Cent Howl to become a group that sounds like no one but itself.

Favorite Track: “Take My Love”

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Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in San Francisco with a girl and a designer dog (Chihuahua vs. dachshund). He is in a band by himself and has a myspace account ( and a production company ( for freelance film and crit/journo work.

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