Ignore the skulls on the cover of the Catheters' third release Howling... It Grows And Grows!!! Actually, ignore the glowing volcano, the lightning bolts and about half of the song titles. On its face, you'd totally assume that the Seattle-based garage rock quartet had traded in their cute retro mop-tops for big hair and leather pants. But Howling is hardly the head-thrashing, whiplash-inducing butt rock that its packaging suggests. Tsk, tsk -- didn't you ever learn not to judge a book (or album) by its cover?
In fact, the just-born album is a delightful collection of raw and unpolished songs by a group that has already made a name for itself -- and its members are barely of legal drinking age. Howling is a lesson in quality rock 'n' roll by a bunch of young'uns who seem to know more about the music than most mainstream rock artists. Howling kind of brings up that horribly shameful feeling that comes when a little kid beats you at tic-tac-toe. It's so simple -- yet it took a group of young, less experienced musicians like the Catheters to make it.
They must have had a little more than just Sprite in those soda cans during recording.
The Catheters provide 11 deliciously unpolished and raw tracks that are toe-tappingly good fun, but never sophomoric. Perhaps it's because singer Brian Standeford not only provides gorgeously guttural vocals but he himself out there on every track -- warbling, gurgling and sometimes emitting "oh-God-my-voice-is-changing" squeals. There are moments when he sounds a bit like Craig Nicholls of the Vines, and even, at times, Chris Cornell.
But what makes Howling so good is its sheer straightforwardness. For being so young, the band makes quality music and never gets in too far over their heads. The Catheters don't add any frills -- no bells and whistles here. They spice things up with just enough distortion on "Reaction," a healthy amount of screaming on "Between the Creases" and a few satisfying lines of psychedelic ramblings on "Red Flags to White." It would have been easy for the band to get preachy and experiment a little too much, but they didn't. They kept it simple with simple riffs and even a little handclapping. And in doing so, the Catheters have produced a jagged-edged but well-rounded rock record.