For their third record, and their first for Bloodshot Records, the self-described “post-punk soul rockers” JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound get heavy. Much darker thematically than 2011′s rousing Want More, the fittingly titled Howl shows frontman Jayson “JC” Brooks at his most emotionally vulnerable yet, with lyrics detailing the slow progression of broken relationships — from heartbreak to longing to acceptance.
Musically, Howl sounds like a calculated homage to ’70s funk and soul acts. “River” hearkens back to Al Green-style gospel and R&B and closer “These Things” showcases Brooks’s commanding vocal range and dynamics — switching from counter rhythms to falsettos with interjecting grunts in one fierce ballad.
At their weakest, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound seem like they’re forcing their influences somewhat: The jittery “Before You Die,” which veers closer toward ’70s disco-pop, doesn’t fit musically or lyrically alongside the rest of the more soulful tracks. However, the band’s crackling vitality, as vivid here as in their celebrated live shows, remains consistent through the album. The result is an affecting record, both heartbreaking and invigorating.