When it comes to meaning, the title of Howard's second album Together Alone contains multitudes. Following 2015's intriguing debut Religion, it's the first album from 30-year-old multifaceted bandleader Howard Feibusch's project to be recorded with the full band that so capably toured behind Religion; it's also an aching, restless, and altogether lovely document of the paradoxical sensation in which we feel more isolated than ever in the face of increasing togetherness and connectivity—a modern sentiment wrapped in music that's timeless in its timbre.
Feibusch has been playing music since he received an electric guitar for his 12th birthday: "The first twenty songs I learned were Nirvana's," he reminisces, a self-guided musical upbringing that included heaping helpings of modern and classic rock, along with electronic music. The genesis of Howard as a band, specifically, lies within Feibusch and bassist Myles Heffernan's previous band Orange Television, which the pair formed while attending UMass and worked under for five years. In the fall of 2013, they moved to NYC, playing shows as a duo before meeting drummer Chris Holdridge; the three rehearsed Orange Television songs together, but something didn't feel quite right. "I felt like I was in a cover band of myself," Feibusch admits. "I wanted to start over."
And that he did: after linking up with multi-instrumentalist and engineer/producer Alex Chakour (Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones), the pair recorded Religion, a gauzy and sonically exploratory album that took the phrase "bedroom recordings" to a new level: "I did a lot of it on my own, and I was literally putting it together in my bedroom." Chakour, Heffernan, and Holdridge joined Feibusch for the tour behind Religion's expansive tunes; a fascinating and largely electronic EP Recycle followed in 2016, and the now-fully-formed band got to work on Together Alone in Feibusch's newly-minted Long Island City recording studio. This record was crafted as a band—the last one was more about samples and production, but this one was more about engineering," he explains. "It felt like a new orbit of evolution for us."
Indeed, Together Alone finds Howard venturing further out of their comfort zone and using their full-band capabilities to their greatest advantage—a full-bodied warmth, aided by horn contributions from the famed Daptone musical family. No sonic stone is left unturned here, from the gently rollicking and subtly psychedelic "Mothers Wedding" to the brittle, dusty desert rock of "Oh Dear Brother." You can hear a variety of influences here, from the winsome sounds of Athens' Elephant 6 collective to Amnesiac-era Radiohead and the distant lullabies of the Everly Brothers—but they all coalesce to form a sound that is truly its own.
Thematically, Together Alone is dual-headed and informed by its elliptical title. "I got married, which shifted the writing and emotion behind it," Feibusch explains when talking about his lyrical approach. "At first, I was a bit lost about what to write about, because I was happy. It's easier to write from a place of unrequited love and isolation. It was an interesting challenge for me, to not go to that darker and heavier place in my head."
Even though a newly found togetherness informed Feibusch's overall outlook, Together Alone still deals with heavy themes—specifically, the isolation caused by technology and the ever-threatening overflow of the Information Age. "We all talk, but connections are thinner than they ever were before," he sings on the ghostly title track, built off a beautiful music-box melody.