Charlotte’s Daniel Howie is no stranger to the music industry. Howie spent the early 2010’s garnering some buzz with indie-rock outfit Sugar Glyder by performing at SXSW as well as sharing the stage with acts like Silversun Pickups, Neon Trees, and Manchester Orchestra. Since the band broke up in 2012, Howie has traded in the indie-rock sound of Sugar Glyder for an infectious, electronic-tinged pop one on his solo project, Mouth Sounds. What sets Howie apart from all the other electro-pop is that while Mouth Sounds instrumentation finds its foothold in electronic elements, Howie’s cutting vocals soar free and clear from vocal processing typical of the genre.
Howie shows off his ability to craft lush textural songs on Mouth Sounds’ debut EP, Sing or Swim. “Everett” has a 90’s pop vibe to the opening pianos which take on a beatbox inspired beat giving it the familiarity of a track you’ve loved for a long time but is brand spanking new. The pianos transition nicely from the verse into an anthemic chorus as Howie belts “Your time has come to be someone tonight!” Like many of the tracks on Sing or Swim, “Everett” seems like a simple composition on the surface. It isn’t until you dive in on a third or fourth listen that you can really start exploring the many layers that make up the song.
“Higher Ceilings” starts with dark synths that sound like the could have come right out of an 80’s horror movie (or perhaps off the soundtrack for Stranger Things), which is probably why I immediately fell in love with the track. The synths dissipate allowing Howie’s unique vocals to shine as the first verse drops in. There’s an interesting mix of dark and light going on in this song that keeps me going back to it over and over again.
As usual, the weather here in Michigan has been back and forth between spring and winter for a few weeks now. That little taste of warmer weather has me salivating for it to finally get here. Listening to “In the Night” only has me wanting that warm weather even more. This track is one that begs for you to sing along at the top of your lungs as you drive around with the windows down on a warm summer night, especially the cries of “In the Night” on that hooky chorus. If that doesn’t hook you, the saxophones on the end of the song surely will.
Sing or Swim doesn’t only announce Howie’s arrival as a solo artist, it also makes it clear that he has the ability to keep his alt-rock roots present in his new electro-pop sound. Sing or Swim is a set of pop songs not only for people who love pop music but also for people who typically don’t. There’s a sense of organized chaos lurking just under the surface of each track which leaves a treasure-trove of new things for fans to discover with each listen.