Growing up along the San Diego coastline does strange things to a person. With its endless series of lifeguard towers overlooking a plague of red bodies and even redder tides, a seemingly endless parade of fascist bodies and underfed minds, it’s the kind of place that makes a young man want to drift. And so today James Clifford, aka Modern Howls, finds himself in Los Angeles, awash in a surreal trashed-out decadence and struggling to make sense of it all.
His debut EP is a Steely Dan for the 21st century, or maybe a lapsed Rundgren, and so the last Southern California century finally begins.
The title track ‘2 A.M., Chinatown’ sounds like Boz Scaggs on a dopamine bender, with Clifford distractedly strutting and bouncing from one disused phone booth to another looking for a connection. ‘I Don’t Mind’ effortlessly evokes an early morning in a beach town: the deserted streets, the closed-up burrito stands, the marine layer and its endless overcast coastal skies, terraces of bougainvillea, rhododendrons, and ice plant. ‘In the Lilacs’ carries itself with a hazy swagger. Lastly, the hyper-melodic ‘Wait until Dawn’ unfolds with a confidence rarely heard these days: soft rock that actually rocks, a romantic masterpiece, or the sound of being sleeplessly in love.
This EP is the sound of someone talking to themselves, which is appropriate, because at the heart of the California dream is a sense of loneliness, an ugly isolation, an iron fist behind a sunny smile. In the capital of eternal youth, fear will always run the town. And as long as American life remains something to escape from, Modern Howls should have a bottomless pool of eager listeners.
- From: Los Angeles, California
- Year Formed: 2016
- Members: James Clifford, Jarren Heidelberg, Andrew Hill