Another sibling duo with the surname White have come to breathe life into a dying musical genre. While Meg and Jack White (of the White Stripes) embody much of the glory of the American tradition of garage rock, Electric Soft Parade’s Tom and Alex White restore Britpop’s snap and crackle, delivering an album that feels as thrilling to listen to as Definitely Maybe or Parklife.
Of course, Britpop has been looking for a savior since the mid-‘90s, when major artists scurried away from the form’s signature pomposity and über-Britishness faster than you can say The Great Escape. Out went the social commentary, in came the nods to electronica, and suddenly it seemed that the genre was done for good. A would-be Jesus appeared in 1999 in the form of Cliff Jones, journalist-turned-rocker and leader of the group Gay Dad. Critics adored that band’s release of that year, Leisure Noise, with its combination of hi-fi zing and powerful, glammy pop. But despite media prophecy of a second coming, a purist Britpop by and large stayed in hibernation.
In the vein of the Jones’ experiment, Electric Soft Parade are now poised to push again for that awakening. (With a little help from Gay Dad, in fact: Leisure Noise producer Mark Frith has lent a hand here, and Cliff Jones sings backing vocals.) The Brighton brothers do Britpop with all the theater and flourish that define the form, updating it with a fuzzy, digitally-inspired edge. The songs of Holes in the Wall have the dreamsicle pop harmonies, new millennium-style ‘60s, and hooks so sharp you could fish with them. Take “Empty at the End”, a three minute bounce that manages to both sound familiar at the first listen and fresher at every subsequent one. Layers of prancing piano and candied guitar lines create a welcome canvas for the brothers’ unassuming vocal alignments. For more convincing, try “Something’s Got to Give”, a sassy jaunt dressed up with methodical drums and a hummable countermelody. The bright clarity of the Electric Soft Parade sound plays well against the reflective lyrics, largely about relationships, their thorny endings and sober new beginnings.
If the album has any drawback, it’s of the sort that also heightens its infectiousness—it is incredibly even handed, and nearly all the tracks listen like singles. That means there are few stylistic shifts and fewer risk-taking, non-radio friendly tricks. Even “Silent to the Dark”—a song that ends soberly with a long, synthesizer/guitar/drum machine instrumental movement—begins like a winning play out of the indie pop handbook, written neatly in two parts that are almost mutually exclusive. Against this paisley backdrop, the aggressive “Why Do You Try So Hard to Hate Me”, which makes an appearance later on the disc, sounds almost violent. Its high-hat heavy percussion and spitfire chorus signal that there’s plenty of uncharted territory for this band. And there should be—hell, the siblings are both still under 20.
So that this album may be too much of a good thing is hardly a complaint, especially for those who’ve been hoping against hope for a British rock band who doesn’t want to be Coldplay, Radiohead, or American. Electric Soft Parade deserve plenty of accolades for getting back to the basics, boldy going where British bands have gone before.
// Notes from the Road
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