Chances are that if you think of Des Moines, Iowa, in the context of contemporary music, you’ll stare blankly into the air for a moment before asking “What?!?” If you are a fan of heavier music you’d probably say Slipknot and Stone Sour before scratching your head in search of some more obscure names. Des Moines has been cultivating a growing music scene over the past little while, according to Brenton Dean, and this scene has supported Holy White Hounds as they have pushed aside the urge to jump into the sink-or-swim scenes of New York or Los Angeles, instead opting to build a local, then regional, following. A smart approach to be sure but with debut album, Sparkle Sparkle, the band has revealed that they have bigger ambitions.
Lead single, Switchblade, stylishly opens Sparkle Sparkle with its blend of stoner-, indie-, and blues- rock. On paper it doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does, which is due to the strong musicianship on show from all members. Ambrose Lupercal’s swaggering bassline provides the bravado needed to ensure Dean’s vocal delivery is taken as sly charm, Dean and James Manson have crunchy guitar tones that compliments their blues based riffing, and Seth Luloff’s steady drumming binds all the elements together, but not so tightly that the song can’t freely range across its sonic influences. Once you get past the fact that it sounds like Queens of the Stone-Age, or Desert Sessions, Gaver Water is a solid track and using the bass guitar to provide the melody – not a feat many bands attempt, let alone succeed at – demonstrates the confidence Holy White Hounds have approached Sparkle Sparkle with.
Blind is a fun little stoner-rock-meets-pop song, with the group channelling Weezer coming out of the bridge. Driven by a rubbery riff, Ghost Arm, feels longer than its 2 minutes 46 which, depending on whether or not you like what Holy White Hounds are doing, will be either a blessing or a curse, although the tongue-in-cheek false ending is rather enjoyable. Oh Mama changes the pace from the rest of the album quite dramatically and both annoys and pleases because of this. The second half of Sparkle Sparkle comes across as a tad lacklustre, though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why that is as there is nothing wrong with the songs per se, so I can only attribute the feeling of mild disappointment to the songs incorporating more of an indie-rock vibe and a bit of fatigue at Holy White Hounds’ sound. Luckily Black Lust mixes up the tone, while remaining true to the preceding tracks, to bring the album home strongly.
Sparkle Sparkle is an album that demonstrates a great confidence from Holy White Hounds, a confidence that is all the more surprising given that this is a debut. Regardless of whether or not Holy White Hounds manage to become a breakthrough act, they can stand proud behind Sparkle Sparkle, and undoubtedly Des Moines will be entering the thoughts of music fans more often.