WOWEE ZOWEE (28)
July 11, 2018
One in a series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the subject of our favorite albums of the Nineties (1994–2003). A new installment in this series will appear each Wednesday during 2018.
TEENAGE SNUFF FILM | ROWLAND S. HOWARD | 1999
The room had sparse furniture: one long, sagging couch; a coffee table with a clutter of mugs and ashtrays on it; and a record player in a cabinet in the corner. Out the narrow window was a view of the weeds that grew in profusion in the humid Sydney weather. We weren’t the gardening kind. We spent idle afternoons drinking coffee and listening to records, doing our best to pretend we weren’t living in the late 1990s but in a bohemian time of our own making.
One afternoon Vic came home looking wild-eyed, upset. I put my mug down on the table and asked what had happened. He said he’d found out something distressing: “Rowland S. Howard is working in market research!”
There was a silence. That was the kind of dead-end job one of us might do, not one of our idols. The thought of the otherworldly, rakish Rowland S. Howard confined to a call centre was horrible to contemplate.
Whether or not this rumour was true, it wasn’t the only thing Rowland S. Howard was doing in the late 1990s. He was also recording his first solo album, Teenage Snuff Film. By then Howard had been a musician for more than twenty years. He was best known as having been a member of the Birthday Party: his shapeshifting guitar sound wrapped their songs in barbed-wire. But after the band broke up and Nick Cave’s star ascended, Howard’s fortunes wavered. In the 1990s he was playing to tiny pub audiences in Melbourne, and the recording for Teenage Snuff Film relied on the goodwill of producer Lindsay Gravina, who snuck the sessions in around those of more profitable artists.
Teenage Snuff Film doesn’t sound like it was recorded in 1999. It comes from a private universe: the songs have a hypnotic cool. They weave together the threads of Howard’s life — romance, addiction, desire, cigarettes, Coca-Cola — into a world more akin to one of a film or a novel than a rock album. With a layered sound, lush with strings and organ, and wry, deadpan lyrics, the songs navigate adversity and its transcendence. The gentle “Autoluminescent” declares it: “I was a nightmare,” Howard sings, “but I’m not gonna go there, again.” The album tells us of the nightmare: broken relationships, faded notoriety, drugs. But Howard emerged on the other side of all of this, and these songs glow.
WOWEE ZOWEE: Stephanie Burt on UNISEX | Anindita Basu Sempere on UNDER THE PINK | Mark Kingwell on DUMMY | Bill Nericcio on AMOR PROHIBIDO | Sherri Wasserman on HIPS AND MAKERS | Mimi Lipson on THANK YOU | John Overholt on BEN FOLDS FIVE | Jordan Ellenberg on GET LOST | Chelsey Johnson on PERSONAL BEST | Marilyn Snell on MAXINQUAYE | Dan Fox on DIFFERENT CLASS | Devin McKinney on IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER | Alice Boone on MTV UNPLUGGED (ALICE IN CHAINS) | Rob Wringham on SPICE | Joe Alterio on BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE | Jason Loeffler on SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS | Rick Pinchera on EITHER/OR | Josh Glenn on THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST | Jennifer Krasinski on SUPA DUPA FLY | Sara Ryan on DIG ME OUT | Luc Sante on MEZZANINE | Molly Wright Steenson on I CAN HEAR THE HEART BEATING AS ONE | Franklin Bruno on ENGLAND MADE ME | Michael Campochiaro on IS THIS DESIRE? | Adrienne Crew on CALIFORNICATION | Drew Daniel on I SEE A DARKNESS | Veda Hille on THE SOFT BULLETIN | Vanessa Berry on TEENAGE SNUFF FILM | Tom Kipp on GET SKINTIGHT | David Hirmes on DOPETHRONE | John Hilgart on YORK BLVD. | Deborah Wassertzug on JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT | Adam McGovern on INVINCIBLE SUMMER | Brian Berger on TIRED SOUNDS OF… | Michael Grasso on MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN | Jen Collins on HURRAH | Flourish Klink on THE TEACHES OF PEACHES | Judith Zissman on TALLAHASSEE | Lauren Oliver on SOUND-DUST | Jason Cohen on IS THIS IT | Matthew De Abaitua on THE RAINBOW CHILDREN | Jenny Davidson on TIME (THE REVELATOR) | Crystal Durant on LIVE THROUGH THIS | Gordon Dahlquist on GARBAGE | Erin M. Routson on WASHING MACHINE | Carl Wilson on TEMPTING | Jessamyn West on ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS | Kaleb Horton on STREETCORE | Tom Nealon on BAZOOKA TOOTH | Erik Davis on DOPESMOKER | David Levine on FEVER TO TELL | Deb Chachra on MASS ROMANTIC.
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