Artist: The Whitest Boy Alive
Label: Bubbles Records
Due Out: March 3rd
The Whitest Boy Alive's new album, Rules, may be one of the most black and white albums of the year (in the best sense, of course). The band builds on its sound from 2006's Dreams and seemingly creates a basic structure by which to write each of their songs by. You're never surprised, nor taken aback by anything you hear, but it remains an enjoyable experience. It's a calculated record- one that moves with ease, and alludes to house jazz and electronic aspects more than its supposed indie pop label may indicate, but is still able to maintain a rock vibe. At times, Rules sounds like Ben Folds at his most daring musical moments, but overall, a calm and relaxed sound one can truly appreciate over the course of its 11 tracks.
The opener, "Keep A Secret," sets a mellow tone for the record. The highs are never too high, and the lows never too low; a nice balance which allows the band to establish its limits and stay within them. The Ben Folds comparison is first seen here, as you can picture the track fitting in very well with some of Folds' solo material. I wouldn't say that there is a retro feel here by any means, but you are sort of transported by the sounds, taken to a European house and jazz lounge. This makes sense since the band is, in fact, from Europe, but is novel just the same. Through all of the instrumental activity though, it remains mostly minimalist. Lyrics are present throughout the album, but only when necessary. It's really a tribute to how strong of a musical presence exists, weaving jazz and indie aspects in and out of each other seamlessly.
Subtle changes in tempo and volume are the only indicators of your progression to the next track. Before you know it, you've already passed through the first four tracks, all of similar style and mindset, before slowing up at "Rollercoaster Ride". The track's name is misleading, however, as it does not mimic the actions of a rollercoaster, but rather, resembles a relaxing country drive. As the virtual halfway point, it makes sense that we see this easing up, before building back up to a near-dance tempo on "High on the Heels," possibly an allusion to the club scene the sound may evoke. At times during this track, and the ones afterwards, I sense the presence of a 1970s disco sound- and just as the afro and roller derby come into view, a modern guitar riff disrupts the image.
The playing back and forth between the varying sounds within the record is, as I mentioned, seamless. With all of that though, I still feel as if something is left to be desired at the end of Rules. As I said earlier, it is mostly black and white, and that fact alone is what holds it back from reaching its potential as something truly astounding. Perhaps if the higher and lower limits were adjusted to accommodate for more tempo and volume experimentation, we'd be talking about a real imaginative sound. Instead, it holds its own as a 'pretty good' record, but no more than that. Still, a cool and relaxing listen I'd recommend if you're into this type of stuff. Similarities may include the aforementioned Ben Folds, Kings of Convenience (of which, lead singer Erlend Øye is also a part of) and musically, can resemble Minus the Bear, at times.
Best Track: "Dead End"