White Lies: Ritual

Indie gloom mimics cash in on pop success with more portentous ready-mades, proving that ritual relies on repetition.

White Lies


Label: Geffen
US Release Date: 2011-01-18
UK Release Date: 2011-01-17
Artist Website

British post-punk has been the stylistic destination of choice for a lot of new bands for at least a decade now. Cutting through the blustery pomp of late Brit Pop with the surgical application of spiky guitars, synths, and '80s vocal styles, the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Editors, Liars, and Interpol have brought back memories of acts as diverse as Orange Juice, the Pop Group, Gang of Four, Joy Division, and Echo & the Bunnymen. Coming late to the party has meant that White Lies get criticized not only for copying the original groups (and add Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, and Teardrop Explodes in for good measure), but also for sounding like their more recent predecessors. This hasn't stopped them from racking up huge sales for their singles and debut album, 2009's To Lose My Life. Follow-up Ritual presents 10 more slices of memory, mimicry, or momentousness, depending on your tolerance for history repeating itself (which it does, as Marx observed, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce).

If ritual involves being transported from one's time and place to another world, then this album would initially seem to fit the bill. Once again, we are taken away to that other country that is Britain in the post-punk '80s. But ritual covers both the exceptional and the everyday, both those liminal (or at least liminoid) experiences where one removes oneself temporarily from the here and now (church, commemorations, festivals, time travel) and those regularly repeated actions that constituted the often unconscious aspects of our regular lives. Once again, White Lies prove themselves to be everyday rather than exceptional, not only because they sound like others in the here-and-now who are doing this sort of thing, but because their lyrics are so unavoidable (Harry McVeigh's doom-deep voice is placed center stage in the mix) and so unexceptional.

When McVeigh sings "You were writhing on the floor like a box of molasses" at the beginning of "Holy Ghost", he sounds like an improvising comedian who's been asked to come up with a song about sugar in the manner of a gloomy post-punk singer. And when you do something that is in the manner of something that is already mannered, you end up not so much with the farce of repeated history as a kind of preposterous inauthenticity (rather than a convincing inauthenticity, which is one of the markers of great pop). This is only compounded by the lightness of the band's lyrics and the fact that they don't seem to realize the bad fit between words and delivery. The mix of registers can be found throughout the album, tempting one to join in with the silliness. Adopt your most gravitas-projecting voice and complete the following line (from "Turn the Bells"): "The marketplace has nothing to sell..."

The opening lines to "Is Love" -- "She stares into the mirror/youth fading with the sun" -- suggest the band are channeling some sort of late voice, more specifically that voice that comes with late adolescence and the move into adulthood. That would be classic pop territory, one of the things that marks pop as not only transitory pleasure, but a way of mediating the pain and confusion of experience at any stage in one's life. It's that seriousness, of course, that one finds in the vocalists to whom McVeigh gets compared (Curtis, Cope, Sylvian). But "Is Love" is no "Love Will Tear Us Apart"; as soon as they can, the band throw in an "uplifting" bass line and some drums that allow for the inevitable lift into euphoric mode and the delivery of a chorus which has "stadium" plastered across it.

And so the ritual goes on. White Lies will continue to be massive at festivals, twisting the late voices of yesteryear into crowd-pleasing anthems. Mobile phones will be held aloft, choruses will be chanted, and hearts will be seen to be worn on sleeves. Perhaps this is what ultimately sets bands like this apart from their post-punk influences. Listening to those earlier bands, one never got a sense of a band deliberately setting out to create festival-friendly "events" (that was left to metal groups, specialists in the art). It may be possible to have an intimate relationship with Ritual, but White Lies' love of bombast would seem to mitigate against it.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.

If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.

Keep reading... Show less

Tokyo Nights shines a light on the roots of vaporwave with a neon-lit collection of peak '80s dance music.

If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it's only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine '80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.