It would be easy to write the first one-line review ever published on Glorious Noise about this record: “What up, guys, you’re a couple years too late to the pirate/war narrative/Bowie wannabe bandwagon.” [That would be the second one-line review, actually – Ed.]
The debut album from new Merge residents White Whale invites so many comparisons to its peers and predecessors that it’s like a history lesson of the last two and a half indie rock years. The singer’s voice bears a resemblance to Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, there are songs titled “O’William, O’Sarah” and “The Admiral” (mp3), and the album itself is a “narrative” of the band’s journey through a war in a long-ago era, and the spacey musical nods to Bowie are present too. With all these possible strikes against it, though, there’s something completely compelling about the music itself that keeps the listener reaching for it over and over, trying to sort through the artifice.
Songs like the purposely tinny, echoey “I Love Lovely Chinese Gal” don’t exactly help their cause, but on “What’s An Ocean For” and “One Prayer,” the tempo, piano, and the melody all collide and bloom in ways that make your heart swell. “Forgive the Forgiven” is a haunting examination of a girl who “bled [her] finger to remind herself even good girls sometimes hurt.” “Yummyman Farewell” starts out scattered and hushed, and then punches its way through to an absolutely glorious rush of a song. One wishes that they would spend less time concerning themselves with ships and voyages and girls they had to leave behind in the war and concentrate on their strengths; just simply be straightforward about it rather than weighting the joy they’re capable of with so many conceits.
This band deserves an audience, and a huge one. Please bear with them. Their next album ought to be great (unless they head south to chase the Desert Fox into WWII).
Stream songs from White Whale’s myspace.