Travis Hawley

Love Gloom – Night Riots

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

Night Riots stole my heart when I saw them live with Blaqk Audio earlier this year. Their fusion of synth pop, rock, and electronic made their music irresistible. I picked up their 2015 EP Howl right away and impatiently waited for their debut album, Love Gloom. I was a bit surprised when I finally got my hands on it; it has a different vibe, mood, and feel than their previous release. It’s not drastically different, but there are some changes.

For one thing, Howl is upbeat, fun, and danceable the whole way through. But Love Gloom allows the band to explore other sounds and avenues. There are still insanely catchy jams like the popular “Contagious” and “Work It.” The latter isn’t Travis Hawley’s best singing effort, he sounds a bit too stained, but the song is still bouncy and fun. “Nothing Personal” is another catchy track blistering with lust and desire. Hawley has a vampiric presence and this comes out best on this song when he sings lines like “Numb yourself and think of me” or “I’ll be the king, you’ll be the filth/I’ll wash away.” It sounds like he’s trying to hypnotize us. It’s one of the most gripping and catchy songs on the album.

Aside from this, the rest of the album is kind of slow and melancholic. Previously, the band described their music as “pop gloom” and that’s exactly what it is. “Fangs” is pretty upbeat, but steeped in darkness and the macabre. The hook pleads “So stick your fangs, fangs, fangs/into me” bringing up images of vampires, albeit sexy ones. Similar to their other songs, this one also drips with lust and desire – it’s something Night Riots effortlessly convey in a good chunk of their songs. It’s a sort of dark romanticism they explore on this track.

The excellent “Don’t Kill the Messenger” might as well be their love letter to Depeche Mode. The shuddering bass, booming drums, and somber guitars makes it sound like it was written for the iconic band. It also has a brooding nature that plays into their melancholic side. The track stands out for its more aggressive tone and heavy hitting nature. Everything gets more intense as the track continues. It has a big sound making it one of the most satisfying songs on the record. Plus, it’s pretty catchy. After one listen, the song will burrow itself in your head.

Breaking Free” is where we start to hear the band’s softer side on the album. It’s another stellar track filled with lush tones and atmospheric music that makes it feel like you’re under water. The rolling drums that occasionally pop up give it some extra flair. It’s another brooding track talking about breaking out of a relationship. Something about it is warm and relaxing even though the lyrics aren’t exactly the most uplifting: It’s beautiful, yet haunting quality makes it one of the highlights of the album.

As previous songs have shown, Night Riots take great inspiration from 80s music. It was all over their EP and it’s all over this album, but they use the New Wave influences in a subtle way. The ballad “All for You” has this big, 80s anthem vibe to it. The dreamy guitars, far away sound, and relaxing melody makes you think of Tears for Fears, who they’ve covered in concert. To keep the song from getting too dull, the bridge comes alive, bursting with guitar and drums. It’s a soft, sweet song about being there for one another. “Tear Me Apart” starts with a weird, stuttering synth that instantly grabs your attention. This song feels directly tied to the title: the mood is somber and gloomy as Hawley laments the end of a relationship. Some of it is cliché, like the lyric “Where does it start/where does it end/I’m losing my best friend/tear me apart,” but it’s pretty forgivable. The track also has this ghostly vibe to it with ethereal singing, other world music, and a cold vibe infiltrating the entire song.

This slow, doom-laden mood continues on tracks “Pull Me Down,” which has a Gothic quality to the lyrics and “Everything Will be Alright,” which is haunting and a little eerie as Hawley sings “lately I feel undone.” Though the songs are slower, the 80s synth elements aren’t abandoned. Rather they play smaller roles in the music popping in the background or playing softly to make the song come alive. Instead of being the focal point, they’re used to add to the song’s flavor and sound. Listeners get a break from the constant wave of gloom with the upbeat “End of the World,” which starts with more attention-grabbing synth that’ll get stuck in your head.

The closing track, “As You Are,” has elements that are likable along with some questionable bits. The opening is too slow and sappy for my tastes. Lines like “Don’t change for me/you got nothing to fix/you’re not broken” end up sounding a bit corny. But what saves the song is the beautiful, symphonic quality to it. As Hawley sings, strings swell up around him making the song pretty and heartbreaking. This paired with the way he croons “Meet me as you are” is enough to give you chills. It’s a somber song; Hawley sounds like he’s at the end of his rope, which makes the final line “I let you down/ betrayed you” hit even harder. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s a fitting close.

Love Gloom wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. There weren’t as many upbeat, catchy, danceable songs as on their previous release. Yet, it remains a strong, thoughtful debut. The upbeat songs are still there, showing Night Riots know how to make you dance. But the slower tracks laden with darkness and of course, gloom, show another side of the band. The album is a melancholic affair; something you put on when the sky is grey and leaves start to fall. Some of it is brooding, some of it is fun, but the whole thing is honest. That’s part of what makes it so appealing. Many of the songs may not grip you right away, but if you give it a chance, you’ll find a great debut that’s not afraid of the darkness, which we all need to embrace from time to time.

Howl EP – Night Riots

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 9.5/10

If it wasn’t for Blaqk Audio I wouldn’t know who Night Riots are. The band opened for Blaqk Audio on their recent tour and I fell in love with their catchy songs, fun vibe, and charming vampiric frontman Travis Hawley. Their performance was upbeat, fun, and made you want to dance. Though I already listened to a few of their songs before the concert, I downloaded their EP Howl as soon as I got home. Similar to how I felt after the performance, it left me wanting me. The only thing I could was hit the repeat button.

This is one EP you can’t get enough of. All the songs are awesome and stay with you long after the record ends. The opening track “Oh My Heart” is actually my favorite. It starts with this cool distant chanting that forms the beat of the song. Hawly’s vocals are pretty strong and have an impressive range. From his singing here you can hear all the charisma he exudes on stage. Something about the way he sounds when singing “Two in a crowd – I feel your desire” makes him seem like the mysterious guy in the club you secretly want to hook up with. The entire track is irresistible and introduces listeners to the fun ride they’re about to experience.

The infectious “Contagious” is one of the strongest songs on the EP and shows off the band’s sound the best. It’s a mixture of synth pop, new wave, and alt rock. This track starts with a weird wailing sample that makes you take notice as soon as you hear it. Thanks to Hawley’s low vocals during the verse there’s also a sexy vibe to it. His vocals come alive and vibrant during the hook when he croons “I am contagious/I am breaking down.” The song is a fun mix of rock, synth, and dance music that’s so grabbing you can’t help but move. Again, it’s another one of those tracks that’s so damn good you’ll be singing after one listen.

Unlike the first two songs, “Holsters” isn’t one that instantly grabs you. Its mellow nature has to grow on you, but it won’t take long. With the lighter music and Hawley singing about a seemingly bad break up it has an anthemic quality to it. The bridge, where the uplifting message of “Learn to live again” is shouted over and over, makes you picture people in solidarity pumping their fist in the air singing along. The lyrics seem to have a lot of references to fighting such as being battered and weathered and even the title makes you think of weapon holster. It’s an interesting way to address a break up and trying to remain a strong without being straightforward.

The band let’s their 80’s influence fly high on the energetic and upbeat “Break.” This is another track that begins with odd synth riffs, which sounds like someone stuttering. It’s a bit weird but definitely ear catching. Though it’s another dance-centric song with a strong hook that lodges itself in your head, the music is more reminiscent of 80’s new wave, which makes it more fun. “Shine” differentiates itself a bit with a rapid, thudding beat sounding like it’s on the run. Hawley’s vocal prowess is on display here as he goes from low to high range. It’s hard to describe his voice, but it makes you think of someone sophisticated and classy; like if Lestat fronted a synth pop band. After hearing a few songs you’ll understand how his voice is electrifying, sexy, and exciting.

The closing track “Follow You” is also cool and catchy with its slinky groove, but it’s pretty creepy. The whole song is about following a girl home he doesn’t really know. During the pre-hook, Hawley sings “I will follow you home/’Cause I know where you live/You’ll never be alone/’Cause I know where you live.” That is stalker territory. Even if you’re singing along, it doesn’t take too long to realize something isn’t right. He’s day dreaming and potentially stalking a girl whose picture he saw in the newspaper. He even talks about sneaking around her house and watching her undress in the last verse. That sort of shit is bound to get you arrested. It may be creepy, but you can’t deny how catchy and fun the song is.

Howl is an excellent EP from start to finish. It shows off the fun, upbeat, and energetic nature of the band. This is something you put on when you want to dance or just get yourself in a good mood. Their mix of synth, rock, and pop makes for songs that are catchy and memorable, while Hawley’s vocals standout as being charming and seductive at times. The EP is so good you’ll want to hear it again and won’t be able to hit repeat fast enough. Night Riots are a promising band on the rise and I can’t wait to hear what they’ll do next.