[10 October 2007]
At first, to be perfectly honest, White Rabbits don’t seem all that interesting. A few seconds into “Kid on My Shoulders”, the very first track on the very first album by the New York City six-piece, there’s not much reason to be very excited. It opens with the clang of an electric guitar. Then comes the four-on-the-floor beat, a couple of catchy riffs and, a few moments later, some Rock Revival-style vocals. By then, if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably already starting making up your mind. You’re thinking that White Rabbits are sounding a helluva lot like a helluva lot of other bands. And you’re thinking Fort Nightly is going to be yet another forgettable album of perfectly competent dance-happy hipster-rock.
Of course, that’s probably why you shouldn’t make up your mind about a band when you’re only 30 seconds into their first song.
As it turns out, there’s much more to “Kid on My Shoulders” and White Rabbits in general than first meets the eye. Sure, they obviously have a lot in common with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! and the rest of the recent crop of rock groups who are trying to fill the dance floors of the world with indie kids and hipster types. But unlike so many of those bands, White Rabbits are far from just carbon copies. With two drummers and a piano player on top of the usual guitars, they bring a little more to the table. “Kid on My Shoulders” takes that basic opening formula of the simple beat and infectious piano riff and builds on it over the course of the song’s four and a half minutes. The band ratchets up the tension as they add one element after the other: handclaps, an organ, more drums, more guitars, more piano, and finally, after a brief interlude, a whole chorus of backing vocals.
“Kid on My Shoulders” sets the tone for the rest of the record. The next ten songs take their lead from the opening track, modern day dance rock with a bit of a twist. And you get the feeling that the twist might just be a result of band with record collections that extend beyond the usual suspects from the ‘80s. On songs like “Navy Wife” and “I Used to Complain but Now I Don’t”, they use a tropical beat that has been earning them positive comparisons to the Specials, while the gloomy grandeur of “Dinner Party” or “Take a Walk Around the Table” seems to owe a little something to Echo and the Bunnymen.
If Fort Nightly has a weak point, it’s that there’s not a whole lot of variation from one song to next. Sure, some of the songs have more of that tropical flavor than others and “Reprise” does mix things up with a loose, drunken sing-along retread of the chorus from “Kid on My Shoulders”, but that’s about it. Other than that, once you’ve heard the first couple of songs on the record, you’ve got a pretty good idea of how the rest of the album’s going to sound. Yes, it’s nice to hear White Rabbits’ refreshing take on the dance-rock genre, but beyond that Fort Nightly isn’t an album that’s going to surprise you very often.
Still, you can’t complain too much. It’s just good to hear a dance-friendly New York City band that doesn’t sound exactly like everyone else does these days. Fort Nightly might not be the most ambitious record of the year, but it’s still definitely stronger than most albums being released by similar bands. And that’s a pretty pleasant surprise, especially for anyone who thought they had them pegged 30 seconds in.