He's one of the creators of trip hop. He collaborated with Soul II Soul on their epochal Club Classics Vol 1. He's written songs with Björk. He's produced U2. He's played bonkers sets of boshing techno. He's remixed everyone from Placebo to Annie Lennox.
And now, Howie B is back with his first studio album in over 5 years and the first on his new label, HB Recordings.
Howie B is one of the true polymaths of modern music. From working with Soul II Soul on their seminal Club Classics Vol. 1 to being a lynchpin of the trip-hop scene in the 1990s, to writing songs for Björk, to producing for U2, to remixing Placebo and Annie Lennox, his musical oeuvre is rarely paralleled in its diversity and significance. Through his label Pussyfoot, his series of artist albums with Polydor under his own name (plus others as Skylab and various aliases) he built up his own reputation as a formidable artist in tandem with his growing prowess as a production genius across the '90s and 2000s.
His output has grown ever more diverse in scope in recent years, with projects including creating a score for a show at the Milan Planetarium, working as creative director for Italian fashion house Fornarina, writing a soundtrack for a Chinese feature film, fronting an alt-rock group called Beautiful and working with fabric musical director and resident (and long-time friend) Craig Richards on an artist album. Never the one to rest on his laurels or allow creative juices to fester inside, his mesmerising seventh artist album, Down With The Dawn, is finally here - some 25 years after he first started working in the music industry.
This warped ride through the mind of the Scottish talent veers from the often conceptual approach of his other albums to instead create an assemblage of the multifarious musical trajectories that he frequents. Free from any shackles of working with and molding another artist’s sounds, Howie allows himself total musical freedom on this record - and the results are wildly varied and captivating. "It's basically me using all the experience I've got and all the different things that have happened to me and expressing all of that" he explains. "It's an extended diary. Normally, my records have been one style, but this is more schizophrenic than that. I've done that because that's where I'm at." This album is also his most collaborative effort to date, with the likes of Gavin Friday (Virgin Prunes) and Joe Hirst (producer of everyone from Bloc Party to Roll Deep) working alongside him.
The futuristic bombast of Frankie's City kicks the album into life, the lolloping ambient acid of Run Always harking back to some of his most slumberous past works thereafter. There’s the self-explanatory quirk of Kazoo, the mellifluous warmth of the title track, and the hypnotic introspection of Can I Close My Eyes. The whirling synths and lo-fi glitch of Ganzi are clinically juxtaposed by the hushed chimes and barely-there beat of Heaven, the yearning synth-strings of Authentication an unexpected piece of intense emotion following in their wake. Master Inch Mile Haunch comes laden with brooding, dark tones, Night Nice brings some hazy electronic dub to the table, and Summers Flower brings the album to a close with the album’s only vocal performance - a fittingly haunting one to fit with the track's ghost-of-trip-hop aesthetic.
Down With The Dawn is a quietly thrilling album, providing a refreshing antidote to the overly-processed and predictable sounds of today - and one that will speak volumes to both lovers of Howie’s back catalogue and curious new audiences alike.