-->
Music

Whitey: The Light at the End of the Tunnel Is a Train

The problem with constructing a sound almost exclusively out of obvious influences is that it's easy to become defined by a tame sense of craftsmanship.


Whitey

The Light at the End of the Tunnel Is a Train

Label: Dim Mak
US Release Date: 2006-10-10
UK Release Date: 2005-03-21
Amazon
iTunes

Whitey is in the rare position of being in the exact right place at the exact right time. Some bands are either cursed to be perpetually ahead of their time (the Pixies and the Meat Puppets are great examples of this phenomenon), while some remain, irrespective of their talent, perpetually five minutes behind the times (Stone Temple Pilots, we hardly knew ye). The type of music Whitey play could not be more au courant if it tried. That does not necessarily diminish the album's charms, even if the results are resolutely unsurprising.

The obvious comparison is also probably the most telling -- Whitey reminds one of nothing so much as LCD Soundsystem. It's not a straight analogy, as Whitey eschew a lot of the straight dance strategies upon which James Murphy has built his sound. But even if The Light at the End of the Tunnel Is a Train is less of a dance album, the influences are the same: '70s funk and punk, krautrock and glam rock, post-punk attitude and acid house volume (sometimes even all at once, as on "Y.U.H.2.B.M.2"), all mixed together with the consummate skill of genre-hopping music nerds with big record collections. Imagine Marc Bolan jamming over Can loops with some particularly gnarly psychedelic keyboards and sub-David Byrne deadpan singing, and you might just have an idea of what exactly Whitey sounds like. Any number of tunes on this album could have wandered in off the Rapture's Pieces of the People You Love, and again, the comparison is quite apt: the Rapture's sophomore release presented a far more disciplined and concise sound, and Whitey presents about as disciplined and concise a distillation of this sound as is conceivable.

If anything, this precision serves to undercut the album's effect. The glam guitar riffs and keyhole-tight rhythm section of a song like "A Walk in the Dark" seem almost too polite to be taken seriously (the semi-acoustic reprise is a nice touch, however). The problem with constructing a sound almost exclusively out of obvious influences is that it's easy to become defined by a tame sense of craftsmanship. LCD Soundsystem avoids this trap (or at least, they manage to avoid it most of the time) by readily indulging in the shaggiest cliches possible: interminable song lengths, hypnotically repetitive rhythms, messy psychedelic breakdowns. The glee with which he embraces the least potable aspects of his influences allows him to surpass the level of finely-tuned irony that unfortunately defines a great deal of contemporary indie rock. No one produces a twelve-minute long psychedelic jam unless they really believe it. That kind of honest connection to the material is simply not present with Whitey. The songwriting is simply too disciplined, the sound too well defined -- there are no fuzzy edges or disconcerting loose ends. A track like "Ha Ha Ha", an organ-drenched drone sitting neatly between Death in Vegas and the Velvet Underground, positively cries out for some kind of excessive breakdown. And yet the track remains resolutely structured, with neat instrumental breakdowns and a keen sense of the pop songwriters' structural responsibilities.

Perhaps an album like this is simply not something to which an experienced critic like myself can reasonably be expected to bring a fresh ear. It's so easy to sit down and diagram every track to exacting specifications that it becomes an almost irresistible temptation to ascribe motivation to the musicians, to infer calculated cynicism in place of honest homage. I'm not a mind reader, however, so I shall resist the temptation. But it must be said that while Whitey produce an extremely accomplished sound, it will primarily appeal to those who can also appreciate bands like Interpol and She Wants Revenge, unabashedly derivative groups that can still produce capable music. In a postmodern age, perhaps there really isn't anything cynical about such blatant appropriation. But you can't help noticing that the precious few places where Whitey stand out on the strength of their own convictions -- such as the lilting, subdued title track -- show the most obvious potential. Ultimately, my advice for Whitey is the same as my advice for any number of similarly gifted young bands: you've proven quite capable of mimicking your record collection, now how about some real songs?

6

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

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
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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

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

rating-image