The Whitest Boy Alive - Dreams
Bill Cummings 03/12/2007
You'd have thought that most guitar bands who are later signed by major labels must have something locked away deep down that was good about their sound before it was buried alive in a wash of over production: unnecessary handclaps, processed vocals, polished guitars, countless over-dubs. It all used to be so different: back when C86 ruled, most indie bands didn't care about being “the next best thing since the last next big thing” - the phrase “doing an Arctic Monkeys”, no doubt espoused at some soulless music marketing meeting, makes me physically sick. This isn't because I have a problem with bands becoming popular and well-known; the problem is that just so few are successful and good at the same time, so few manage to survive the crushing commercialisation of the mainstream industry with what was originally interesting about their sound still in tact.
That's what's so refreshing about Dreams from Scandinavian collective The Whitest Boy Alive: its pared back, minimal, subtle pop sound nestles its head on your shoulder somewhere between Kraftwerk and The Shins, giving each instrument space to breath, drums skip, bass lines bounce, clean guitars lines weaving glistening snail trails through the gaps. Each track positively oozes with pleasing foot-tapping rhythms, retaining a live, airy feeling but still crafted precisely, working cohesively with clever slights of hand. In Erlend Øye, (one half of Scandinavian acoustic duo Kings of Convenience and electronic solo performer) they have a vocalist with a knack for creating lilting, bittersweet melodies that will have you humming on your way to work for weeks to come.
Take opener and recent single “Burning” with its clicking drums, snaking metallic guitars, juicy bass lines and a hypnotic melody that knits pretty patterns on your ceiling. It's got the pure, simple, warm intimacy of Peter Bjorn and John, an infectious slice of danceable guitar pop. Ironically given their name, there's a hint of white boy soul about TWBA's sonic manoeuvrings: “Golden Cage” sees a jazzy riff spin gracefully above, building blocks of dexterous bass and drums, Øye's soulful falsetto gliding into view, his doe eyed lyrics (“there's sadness written on every corner”) augmenting rather than overwhelming the track. One gets the feeling that, like many electronic albums, vocals, delivered with crisp pure accuracy, are just another instrument.
“Done With You” is gorgeously pointed: a single strummed, then picked, Rickenbacker, a kick beat and Øye's melancholic tale of leaving your lover and your home to go “sailing around the world.” The Paul Simon-esque vocals of “Don't Give Up” appear like little thought bubbles of advice above your head, and when the deeper backing vocals kick in midway through its beautiful, vaguely like Radiohead's In Rainbows given the come down treatment. Squelching funk guitars and a shuffling beat usher in “Above You”, the soundtrack to a walk through the suburbs on a hazy Sunday afternoon, while “Figures” is musically pure class: jangling guitar strums battle their way through the choppy percussion, but lyrically this needs fleshing out to really take its full form.
Parts of Dreams' second half aren't quite as successful as others - a little lyrically too skeletal, a tad too musically bare - but this doesn't detract from what is at its best guitar pop crafted of real musicianship and soul. It feels alive, full of crafty rhythms that get your limbs moving like a Pelham puppet while its beautiful melodies caress your brow; its that all too rare feeling of a live band on record. The Whitest Boy Alive have something very unique: an ability to effortlessly create more out of less, and some “bigger” bands should take note.