White Rabbits

It’s Frightening

Rating: 4.0

Label: TBD Records

I’m going to try and get this all out of my system at once – the new White Rabbits record sounds just like a new Spoon record. It’s not accidental; it can’t be. If their excellent 2007 effort Fort Nightly occasionally sounded like the Austin band mixed with The Walkmen (both former White Rabbits tour-mates), It’s Frightening is as close as any band is likely to get to Spoon’s particular blend of rhythmic rock. Heck, Stephen Patterson even sounds like Britt Daniel. Granted, they guaranteed such comparisons by hiring Daniel as producer. He lends the six-piece New York band his ear, his knob-twiddling talents and his own band’s excellent sense of pacing and tension – all of which would be worthless if the White Rabbits didn’t bring the ruckus.

And they indeed bring it.

Five seconds into opening track “Percussion Gun” it’s apparent they’re playing with fire. Granted, two drummers can have that effect; Matthew Clark and Jaime Levinson destroy the tribal drums that lead into Patterson’s vocals, and before you know it, guitar, bass, piano and those damn drums are raising hell. The guys sound tight but sparse, spooky and tense in all the right ways – not at all dissimilar to Spoon’s Gimmie Fiction.

The first four tracks offer a quick reminder of how to generate momentum on a rock record with a minimum of superfluous studio trickery. “Percussion Gun” sets the tempo high, and “Rudie Fails” continues the charge with a high/low piano riff that invites the rest of the band to sing along: “No… I don’t care at all.” Frankly, I don’t believe them. Lyrically, Patterson is clever but not smarter-than-thou, easily placing his listeners in his nighttime tales of desertion and misplaced trust. “They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong” brings back a hint of the calypso flavor previously heard on Fort Nightly before exploding into cascading piano and vocals, slowing the pace a bit to make room for the gorgeously spacious “Lionesse.” When Patterson sings “Listen to me / Listen to me,” it’s not a plea; it’s a command, and you don’t really have a say in the matter.

The middle third of the record doesn’t try to keep up the pace. “Company I Keep” is a lazy, almost Caribbean-via-Brooklyn strum-along song, layered with vocal tricks and melodic bass courtesy of Adam Russel. “The Salesman (Tramp Life)” demands recognition with its hooks and dual guitar attack courtesy of Alexander Evan and Gregory Roberts, while “Midnight and I” positively glows with an unearthly moonlit menace. “Right Where They Left” continues the mid-tempo pop hooks, bringing back the calypso flavor while pushing the rhythm to a clockwork steadiness.

It’s Frightening closes with its two most mellow tracks. “The Lady Vanishes” and “Leave It At The Door” both display a slower, measured pace while not forgetting their penchant for tension. “Leave It At The Door” in particular lets It’s Frightening slip out the back door and into the night effortlessly; barely more than vocals and piano add up to feel like the vague recollection of a nightmare as you’re waking. It’s a strong, smart closer to a strong, smart record.

Even rats would jump this ship,” Patterson says early on. Listeners would do best to ignore his advice.

by Jason Stoff

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