18 January 2011

White Lies: "Ritual"

The very first album reviewed on SlowdiveMusic Blog was White Lie’s “To Lose My Life” – it encapsulated everything that post-punk (revival) was all about: dark, ambient, thriving, and introspective. As far as debut albums go, a band cannot hope to have a more solid one. I got to see the band live and the Bowery Ball Room (in New York City), and they demonstrated that they could pull off their music live, with as much … no even more … power than the album. Of course, six months after your debut release, people want more, and this is something to be weary about. Fact, most bands live with their early music, which evolves into their first album, for months, years sometimes, allowing them to pick the best of the best; sophomore albums are typically written from scratch and more often than not lack the “umph” of debuts. Not only did White Lies have to live up to the expectations they created with songs like “To Lose My Life” and “From The Stars,” there was the inevitable constant comparisons to contemporary heavy hitters, like Editors, Interpol, and The Killers, and the veterans, like The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Joy Division. But the band took a deep breath, entered the studio, and now released “Ritual” (17 January 2011 in the UK, 18 January 2011 in the USA) – and I want to say that this is no sophomore slump.

First thing, get rid of false expectations … that is our own expectations; many people were expecting the next “Unknown Pleasures” or “Pornography” – that simply was not going to happen. Though White Lies takes its cues from the past, their intentions are not to be carbon copies of past monuments. (And that is the problem with expectations and comparisons; quite often they are unfounded.) What White Lies has done here is broaden their musical references; the post-punk influence is still there, but the synthpop is more overt, and though the past is parading all over this album, it still manages to be fresh.

With a big arena-ready intro, “Is Love” methodically builds up musically and Harry McVeigh’s voice is as alluringly dramatic as ever. This is the kind of track that is begging to be remixed for dance floors, with its odd ostinato that adds a very interesting sonic element that heightens the drama of McVeigh’s singing. Then “Strangers” eases in, “I’ve got a sense of urgency, I’ve gotta make this happen. No stone unturned. I’ve got a sense of urgency, I’ve gotta make something happen. No stone unturned.” Sung in an arrangement/vocal style that is completely new to their repertoire, it is this kind of anthemic posing that is all over the album. My favorite track on the album is “Bad Love.” Though it is usually a turn off to sing in platitudes, the band’s music and McVeighs vocals makes the song completely convincing: “If I’m guilty of anything it’s loving you too much.” It is obvious that the band wants to reach higher musically dramatic moments and more intense poetic lyrics than they did before, and I am sure some naysayers will critique their stabs at “big lyrics,” but it is really hard to deny that this sinsterly sensual song is as good as it gets.

I would be remiss if I did not say a few words on the production aspect of the album. Good producers help a band experiment; great producers bring out the best in whom they work with. Alan Moulder (who has produced the likes of Depeche Mode, Erasure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Killers, My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails, and Smashing Pumpkins) is a great producer. His presence may very well be the reason there are more synthpop (electronic) elements on the album, and, as alluded to above, there are new arrangement styles all over the album. And though the tempo shifts are not drastic, it is the distinct sounds and sonic quality of the each track recording that makes up the difference.

Add this album to another solid album on Fiction Records catalogue. Though I am still not sure what is “ritualistic” about the album, White Lies’ may not have produced what some people may have expected, but that does not change the fact that they did produce a solid and stoic album. Sure, even I wanted more along the line of “A Short Term Effect,” but even my jaded ears got perked up listening to this album. And like Editors before them, White Lies takes a big step from “post-punk revival” to “post-punk” with this album.

Track Listing:
1. Is Love
2. Strangers
3. Bigger Than Us
4. Peace & Quiet
5. Streetlights
6. Holy Ghost
7. Turn the Bells
8. The Power & The Glory
9. Bad Love
10. Come Down
11. Bigger Than Us (Dataseete Remix) - Bonus Track
12. Bigger Than Us (Factory Floor Remix) - Bonus Track

Keep up with White Lies at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Here are the UK and USA links to iTunes – you can preview and purchase the album.

Here is their video for “Bigger Than Us” from the WhiteLiesVEVO YouTube Channel.

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