This whole review can, more or less, be unfurled in terms of comparisons. Louisville, Kentucky’s White Reaper is a band making rock and roll which we might as well call “organic,” which has generously made their whole album available on youtube, and which also commendably introduces every sort of keyed instrument somewhere along the way, from actual piano to shmaltzy synth at the start of “Little Silver Cross” so goopy that you’re sure it’s going to ruin the song. What happens ends up being another surprise — that the bombastic instrumental precursor to the proceedings actually renders Tony Esposito’s treated, studio-textured vocal appropriate.
The first comparison I’d like to introduce, one of this-decade-vs.-last-decade, will play out in a couple ways. One thing pitchfork seemed to like about this album is that it’s a return to roots rock and roll. If you ask me, we didn’t really NEED this type of thing right now — there is plenty of hearty punk being made these days, from Iceage, to Jim Jones Revue, to The Dirty Nil to Plague Vendor, and it seems ironic for what is pretty much the only publication I know which actually bashed the Kings of Leon’s first album (keep in mind White Reaper are fellow Southern boys) to actually betoken such a return of rock’s popularity (they particularly reference rock’s returning popularity in spheres of YOUTH, which though perhaps compelling is somewhat beside the point of a discussion of quality for quality’s own sake). This album is LIKE The Von Bondies, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Libertines and the Kings of Leon (early stuff, obviously).
This album is NOT LIKE Modest Mouse, but this brings me to my other comparison: treated vocals vs. untreated vocals. Any Modest Mouse fan knows that Brock has never sounded good with untreated vocals. It’s just a sad fact of life, like how your grandma can’t play charades for a lick. But name one mainstream ‘90s pop act which influenced Modest Mouse — it’s not there. We get Nirvana, the Pixies and Built to Spill — with this White Reaper stuff it just sounds troublingly the product of Ed Sheeran and Imagine Dragons — and not the point where it makes it really HORRIBLE, but there’s something at the core heart of this music that is just so immensely, infinitely FORMULAIC, that it’s literally for me like being in a horror film: all of these songs adhere so staunchly to conventional verse/chorus structures, throwing in nary any phrasing unorthodoxy or tempo change (though they should be lauded for the key change on titled track opener) that I literally feel like I’m in “The Panic Room,” or “The Cube,” someone is controlling my body, and I’ll never get out. The whole thing might be a little more excusable if these guys sounded a little more UNDERDOG, but I can just see this guy like taking up space in front of me at the bar in the bathroom acting all aggressive, fixing his hair while I’m trying to wash my fu**In’ hands. And Tony Esposito’s pathos of “They burn my body” on “Crystal Pistol” isn’t something I’m buying as genuine garnering of sympathy: nothing about this project has emanated as personal in any way.
This brings me to my last comparison (I apologize if you were waiting for a wealth of like 13 comparisons, I really don’t have that many)… but poppy music vs. experimental music. It’s important to understand that THIS IS POPPY MUSIC, at least by last decade’s standards. Even Living Things, who at the time were ostracized by the indie camp, walk significantly edgier of a line, if only for their intense dissident themes in lyrics. In fact, we’re in a sad day and age today when the term “experimental” is applied to music as if it’s a bad thing. In fact, beyond being “excusable,” which I can just hear some smug young kid calling it to sort of half-appease me in a bar conversation, it’s absolutely necessary. In order to make headway, you have to be able be willing to venture outside of view of the shore, everybody knows that. The World’s Best American Band ventures about as far as the kiddie pool… yet, still, it’s definitely not the worst rock music I’ve heard this year, and my head is moving. And sorry to end on such a weird note: but Isaac Brock, when his voice is untreated, has a weird way of sounding like a trans-gender; and I think that’s exactly what White Reaper needs — a little more relegation from the norm, the “in” crowd, a little more damage.