John Foxx And The Maths – ‘Howl’ reviewed

A dynamic collection of songs from synth pioneer John Foxx and friends.

John Foxx is back with a new collaborative project with Benge, aka The Maths, but more pointedly, a reunion with early-Ultravox bandmate Robin Simon sees this album bring a raw guitar-led energy. When you couple this with the talent that is Hannah Peel, you have a collection of creative songs which is truly elevated into a new dimension. Peel first appeared with The Maths on the 2011 Interplay tour in October of that year.

Foxx and Benge has produced five albums together, the last one being The Machine in 2016 however Howl takes the band into new and exciting uncharted creative waters which left me literally stunned on the first listening. The album is fresh and exciting and truly captures the ethos of a punk sensibility coupled with the unmistakable sound of analogue synths and with the power of Simon’s guitar skills.

The strong opening track My Ghost sees an undeniable energy courtesy of the unapologetic sound of that personifies the punk era from the get-go. They are pulling no punches here, and its a gutsy opening that paves the way for the rest of the album. It left me reeling and wanting more and the next track didn’t disappoint. Howl was released as a single in May 2020 and is obviously the title track. It is a Bowie-esque affair which is reminiscent of the raw energy from the Scary Monsters era. It’s dramatic, dynamic and breath-taking and I don’t use those words lightly.

The video for Howl is by Kaborn, and Foxx says of this “Some years ago Karborn and I had this idea to use gifs to make the very first Gif Movie, and since then, this method of working has intrigued us no end. There are lots of inventive people out there, choosing stuff from a huge reservoir of moments we all know and looping them, like tiny obsessive memories, so you eventually feel you’re joining with some great, lost, oceanic mind”

Everything Happening at the Same Time gives Peel her moment in the spotlight and whilst continuing with the same ethos of the album, this track is pure nostalgia whilst maintaining a sense of modern; no mean feat! Meanwhile, with Tarzan and Jane Regained the punk sensibility is never more present than it is here.

The pace is somewhat gentler in The Dance which is a beautiful piece of electronica whose strong vibe is maintained through vocodered vocals, which give the song an element of eerieness. New York Times is one of my favourite tracks on the album, and made me want to get up and dance to it on the first listen. It’s a great song in an album of great songs. In contrast, Last Time I Saw You brings together the power of Simon’s guitar skills coupled with the sound of analogue synths resulting in a powerful, raw, evocative cacophony.

All too soon we arrive at the final track of the album Strange Beauty, which is an electronic ballad that is true to the track’s name.

Despite producing over fifty albums in Foxx’s long-standing career, this album produces a vibrancy and freshness that has not been heard in the synth music genre since Numan’s Splinter. Howl left me feeling energised and emotionally challenged; it’s synth music for the intelligentsia and I can offer no higher compliment.


John Foxx And The Maths – ‘Howl’ (META67LP) is available from Friday 24 July, 2020, from Metamatic Records on CD, standard black vinyl and limited edition yellow vinyl. For more information about John Foxx and The Maths visit www.metamatic.com

❉ Ange Chan is a frequent contributor to We Are Cult and has written two novel and six volumes of poetry. She is currently working on the long-standing project of her third novel Champagne Flues and Pixie Boots.

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1 Comment

  1. According to Paul Simon, Robin was held back somewhat in the studio and Foxx himself provides a large chunk of the guitar histrionics.

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