The Brooklyn-based six-piece White Rabbits spent the better part of their debut album (2007’s Fort Nightly) exploring their melodic charms, with a formidable rhythm section and a penchant for some seriously haunting harmonies under the guise of pop-rock simplicities. The album was warmly received, and gained them a certain notoriety which landed them on the increasingly impressive musical radar of whomever the hell it is that keeps booking awesome bands on Letterman. That alone may not have been enough for the young Missouri natives, however. They wanted more. They wanted individuality beyond their sudden indie fame. So, what the hell? They called Britt Daniel.
On White Rabbits sophomore release It’s Frightening, the indie veteran of Spoon fame leaves an immediate mark on the album from behind the boards. Album opener “Percussion Gun” kicks off like some pseudo version of “I Want Candy” as performed by The Feelies, with the kind of tight, all-encompassing drum work we haven’t really heard from this band before. And Daniel chooses to build upon that.
Driven by backbeats and floor tom pounding (perhaps thinking of itself as maybe a slightly more accessible rendition of Drum’s Not Dead) It’s Frightening finds White Rabbits with a pummeling sonic onslaught of percussion behind a heap of fractured indie rock and gloomily stilted vocals. However, this is only intriguing insofar that, from a production standpoint, it fits the band and all of their harmonic showmanship like a logical glove. The mechanical design that Daniel constructs, paralleled with the band’s softer elements gives It’s Frightening a rather ingenious, if not completely original, personality.
At times moody and sinister, while at other moments jumpy and cathartic, It’s Frightening could easily be an album at war with itself. And, while it does have a combative undercurrent, there is an impressive amount of control on display—and not just from Daniel. It’s Frightening shows White Rabbits stepping into the role of an older band. A band with a strong sense of itself, and one that has the potential to harness that vision into something thoroughly satisfying.
Right from the maniacal laughter that starts It’s Frightening, the lockstep of the drums becomes the counterpart to the looser elements of the album. This doesn’t always work as well as White Rabbits would like, though. The offshoot of this formula that they found for themselves, is that things can become too… formulaic.
There are times when the production’s military precision interjects itself into an otherwise soothing situation, and makes everything much colder than it needs to be. On the other hand, tracks like “Company I Keep”, “The Salesman (Tramp Life)”, and “Midnight and I” use the robotic back-ups to offset the bleeding harmonies and trickling piano to great effect. It’s Frightening may not be at war with itself, but that’s not to say that it isn’t without its minor skirmishes.
As a final product of a somewhat labored vision, It’s Frightening is mostly successful, and even marginally impressive. A lot of its “innovations” should probably come off as forced and starkly uncreative, but White Rabbits pull it off with confidence and swagger. Always on the verge, but never quite becoming too polished, It’s Frightening is an exciting step forward from a group that would appear to have a masterpiece to deliver somewhere down the line.