“Straightforward and stupidly catchy,” 7.2 Pitchfork
Posted Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 at 2:24 pm
By Jason Crock
Having bounced from the four-piece outfit Miss Alex White and the Red Orchestra, Ms. White has joined forces with drummer and brother Francis to strip down what little excess was clinging to her soul-inflected garage rock. It’s great fun to see the redheaded siblings headbanging like matching “Fraggle Rock” puppets in their ecstatic live show, but White Mystery holds up as more than a concert flyer. Austerity is less a choice than a necessity for the duo: The guitar goes from dirty-sounding to dirtier-sounding, the hooks are straightforward and stupidly catchy, and the singing is a belly-deep shout at the top of Alex White’s range on almost every track.
Don’t be dissuaded by other, more infamous “White”-themed guitar-and-drums duos: Alex White still has swagger for miles as a guitarist and vocalist. To compare younger brother Francis to his counterpart from the aforementioned White Stripes, he’s a more accomplished player but less present as a personality. As the band’s rhythmic anchor, he’s nearly as unbuttoned as Alex with his instrument, and uses tracks like “Overwhelmed” to play drum fills that last for the entire songs. When he contributes a vocal, even if it’s just to egg the elder White on, it makes a difference, whether adding backing vocals to the concise and melodic opener “White Widow” or a counterpart to the slower and sassier “Don’t Hold My Hand”.
White Mystery is almost too long; what could have been eight to 10 single-release-worthy tracks is 14 almost exhausting ones. The same basic elements can be fatiguing, and can feel more like jamming the same button on the jukebox 14 times than a cohesive record with peaks and valleys. But even more than bratty lyrics, posessed vocals, or perpetual swagger, these songs beam with a sincere, almost perverse feeling of pride. The live-in-the-room-feeling, warts-and-all production makes obvious sense for a garage-rock duo, though it belies some of the sweetness at the core of some of their most immediate songs– the ode to bipedalism “Take a Walk” or the PG-rated flirt of “Don’t Hold My Hand”. The lyrics of “Respect Yourself”, bordering on pull quotes from an inspirational after-school special, are delivered so earnestly that they demand to be taken at face value. Irony, just like subtlety, holds very little import on White Mystery’s debut.
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