Harry Howard and N.D.E. - Pretty

The only member of this ‘supergroup’ I was unfamiliar with was its keyboardist, Edwina Preston. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s the keyboards that lift this album from confident broodiness to edgy excitement. Preston’s drones, trills and invading melodies galvanise every song. Let’s hear it for musicians you’ve never heard of!

Harry Howard has played bass and guitar in Crime and the City Solution and These Immortal Souls, and has contributed to several Birthday Party recordings. Now that he’s fronting his own band, he seems inspired and hot-wired: this is the second release from the NDE in as many years. The other band members, Dave Graney (bass) and Clare Moore (percussion), might be having flashbacks to their days churning out grinding grooves in The Moodists, before they collaborated in more idiosyncratic projects such as the Coral Snakes and the Lurid Yellow Mist.

Pretty contains blues infused garage punk interspersed with jerky, up-beat numbers. The sound is tenebrous, but every time it edges towards dirge the keyboards pump in some adrenaline. ‘Surround Me’ is reminiscent of ‘60s pop with its delirious organ and the shared vocals of Howard and Preston. ‘Sensitive (To The Cold)’ is propelled by chugging bass and cardiac keyboards, while ‘Devils’ is surly blues with discordant interludes. The bedazzling ‘Love Me’ approaches pop parody, with its satirical lyrics and infectious beat. Howard’s subterranean baritone contrasts with Preston’s energetic peal as they swap vocals.

My intention had been to judge this CD on its own merits without reference to Howard’s legendary sibling, but while Harry’s guitar work is distinctive – terse and petulant in ‘Let Me Go’, ringing and expansive in ‘Let Them Live’ – his voice is not. It’s like when you hear family members singing harmony: it’s the similarities rather than the differences that resonate. Harry Howard’s voice has the same molasses moan as his brother. The sad Oz rock fan-boy in me felt haunted.

With the pedigree of its players, this album can’t help but sound sweaty and Australian. If you like dark, atmospheric rock that reeks of sticky carpet in your favourite down-at-heel pub, get Pretty.
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