From the Bee Gees to Calvin Harris, musicians have asked, “How deep is your love?” without really expecting an answer. Husband and wife Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland of Whitehorse address this topic as a duet on their latest release, Panther in the Dollhouse, albeit fictionally. This conceit allows them to explore passion and pain without restraint. However, none of this really matters as much as the fact that it encourages them to ROCK intensely. Whitehorse sound like they dangerously mean it.
So one doesn’t really need to listen to the words (or even song titles such as “Epitaph in Tongues” and “Manitoba Death Star”) to get what Whitehorse is about. The whip-like guitar lines, the muted and reverbed vocals, the snaky and staccato bass and drum lines, all tightly work together to create a menacing retro feel. The music has a Western vibe, as in Western Movies, and offers an aural CinemaScope in black and white where the color sometimes bleeds in. Is that blood really red?
Lines about guys that still live with their mothers, pink kimonos, and sniffles behind the bathroom door evoke people and their problems in the ordinary melodramas of life when it has pushed them too far. Of course, there’s sex. Sex always complicates things, say the soon to be separated, but what does a separation mean to those always together? Whitehorse’s music suggests the other never leaves one’s mind even after another body enters the picture. But the body itself and who controls it is one of the powerful subjects on this record.
As in, is one a refugee or a desperado? It depends on who’s kicking down your door, who your neighbors are, and what your papers say. The ghost of Woody Guthrie lives on. Knowing who and what came first matters. Whitehorse know that life is a fight. The edginess of the instrumentation seems to be building an edifice that defies completion. Songs just kind of end without resolution. Whatever began is gone. The hardness of the delivery defies ephemerality. What we hear is the sound of rubble.
The music offers a pastiche of styles to create something that echoes the ’40s and ’50s, with accents from the ’60s and ’70s (like that Farfisa organ on “Nighthawks”) and contemporary beat box rhythms. The purpose seems to be to disorient the listener or, more precisely, take the listener out of the moment and into the songs’ realities. It’s familiar enough to sound reassuring and disturbing enough to be something new, like reading an old newspaper and finding that nothing’s changed, except…
And that’s cool! It’s difficult to explain, but the music has a strong, charismatic appeal. You want to hang out and drink with Doucet and look McClelland straight in the eyes while she tells you her stories. You know their sincerity is a put on. They embody mystery. Their music expresses a deeper truth. Yes, hearts will break before the night ends. And one always ends up alone and with the bill. But the quality of the time spent makes it all worthwhile.