You’ll forgive me if I string out a series of elaborated comparisons between White Rabbits and Spoon. Spoon frontman Britt Daniel did, after all, produce It’s Frightening, White Rabbits’ second full-length, and his fingerprints are all over it. It’s perhaps not as innovative as a Spoon album, but the minimalist rock tendency has carried over between bands.
The buzzword, incidentally, surrounding this album is ‘polyrhythms’: two drummers and extra percussionists would, you’d think, make for a pretty rhythmically exciting album. The hype is at least a little exaggerated, however. Indeed, the majority of the tracks on It’s Frightening have fairly simple rhythms. Sometimes it’s just a kit and some handclaps or maracas. The exceptions to the rules are tracks like Percussion Gun or Lionesse - and it’s where the record gets the most exciting.
Spoon is in the business of cutting out every single superfluous note: making, in other words, the sparsest possible rock song. That’s what gives their songs a lot of punch: Daniel & co. boil their tight melodies down as much as possible. It’s Hemingway’s approach to making music. White Rabbits take a different, equally fascinating approach to sparseness: melodic minimalism. Cuts like They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong are bare-bones melodies: a three-note bassline that goes up and down the fretboard a couple times.
That’s not to say they don’t take into consideration Spoon’s “a decibel is a terrible thing to waste” maxim, at least to a certain point. There are some pretty sparse moments in the album. That’s another thing that makes the strongest tracks click: the way they seem to jump effortlessly from one style to another. Percussion Gun opens with a hyper-thin mix (vocals over percussion that is, indeed, gun-like), yet finishes with an 80’s-pop guitar that elevates singer Steve Patterson’s voice to one of the album’s highlights.
Lionesse typifies everything that goes right on It’s Frightening: three to four percussionists driving true polyrhythms (the kind you can’t beat-box with only one mouth). There are brooding piano chords and a darkly catchy melody; it’s uptempo and not a little haunting (though blogosphere comparisons to Radiohead are premature at best), and doubtless the album’s best cut. You’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a particularly black Spoon outtake. On the other hand, slow tracks like Company I Keep drag, and someone should be fired for putting sans-percussion ballad Leave It At The Door on the album at all.
What else? The lyrics are blah, except for a few token turns of phrase (“Where do you get off / And how can I get there, too?”) and Rudie Fails, which references The Clash not only in name but also in the tired refrain of “No, I don’t care at all”. But hey, who listens to lyrics? Oh, and Patterson’s voice is halfway between Marilyn Manson and Eve 6, but don’t let it bother you.
Perhaps the belabored Spoon comparisons aren’t fair; It’s Frightening isn’t a bad album in its own right. There are certainly worse things than making a record that’s frequently catchy but not terribly exciting. The quick polyrhythms are what make It’s Frightening fun, and it’s impressive that White Rabbits can pair them alternately with both Best of the 80’s guitar or echoey chromatic glissandi. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Lionesse and Percussion Gun have some bona fide magic moments, and I don’t think it’s greed to wish for more of them.