English musician Charles Howl returns with his second album My Idol Family which follows on from his 2015 debut Sir Vices.
Enthralled by soundtracks and pop music in all its forms,
Howl updates classic motifs to create a signature aesthetic. Introducing strings and lush
orchestration to dazzling effect, he is comfortable with both wide-open song structures and
intimate headphone tracks. With this album Howl reveals his true talent as a songwriter and
arranger, mixing well-crafted storytelling with a dry wit, it is also more ambitious, touching on
themes of idol worship, friends and the family unit.
He returned to Amsterdam to write and record the album, a city he knew well having run away
there when he was eighteen. As he explains; “it was meant to be a three day stereotypical
end of school weekend with friends but when they were returning home I didn’t see anything
for me back there and so I stayed in Amsterdam and got a job handing out flyers for a
disgusting pub crawl for the tourists.”
When he was planning the recording of this new album, he made a conscious decision to get
away from London with all the distractions and opinions, plus, studio time there is expensive.
Howl had always been a fan of James Murphy and wanted to emulate, in his own way, the
experience that LCD Sound System had when they recorded This is Happening, where they
went to a mansion in L.A. and all dressed in white and uploaded clips of them hanging out
and recording. As Howl explains; “I’ve never thought that kind of thing is only for big bands
with loads of money. So I researched places in Amsterdam and found a reggae studio on the
outskirts in a suburb called Weesp. It included an Air b&b room and so I sub let my room in
London and booked a month in the studio.”
Accompanying Howl in Amsterdam was fellow Proper Ornaments member and drummer,
Bobby Syme, who is a gifted producer and engineer, and took the reins in the studio. Most of
the album was recorded between the two of them, with additional string arrangements by
Richard Jones and with Victoria Hamblett on backing vocals.
With My Idol Family, Howl has found his voice both with his more confident singing style but
also in his lyrics, which are more prominent in the mix. The album title emerged from the
overarching themes of family and idols, and how people idolise celebrities and try to emulate
their lifestyle. This is encapsulated in the song “Meet Lou’s Needs”, about so many people in
music trying to copy Lou Reed’s look, music, attitude and his drug habits. As Charles says; “I
love Lou Reed but I don’t want to see shit imitations of him every time you go see a show or
after party.” Idols are also flagged up in the song “John Albarn”, where he imagines two of his
musical heroes as one seamless being – John Lennon + Damon Albarn = John Albarn.
The opening track “Death of Print” speaks of Howl’s concern for the death of print press.
Based on a true story, it tells of a 1970s zine in Berkley which got shut down and disbanded a
group of friends. As he says; “I’ve always been concerned with our ever increasing seclusion,
with much help from the internet and personal social media profiles.”
“Goodbye Sleep” tells of the time he drove his friends garage punk band on tour when he was
20, and was caught for a driving offence in Malmo, Sweden and sent to prison for one month
over the Christmas period. “This song is about not being able to sleep properly the first week
or so, thinking of my friends outside carrying on the tour and heading home.” says Charles.
At times rapturously melodic and others jarringly off-kilter, there’s a real variety of sounds
on My Idol Family. Howl didn’t want to be afraid to get cheesy with this record and as a result,
it feels more honest. Without the pressure of having to be faithful to one particular genre or
trying to fit in to the favoured psych revival of recent years, he draws on eclectic influences to embrace a wider scope, thus creating something that sounds refreshingly unique and