aWhite Rabbits – It’s Frightening
TBD Records
Words: James Passarelli

If you’re one of those people who hate getting songs stuck in your head, then stay far, far away from White Rabbits’ sophomore album, It’s Frightening (a title that may very well refer to just how scarily contagious their ten equally single-worthy tracks are.)  I dare you to give it a listen or two and not be humming one of the tunes well into the week.  But they’re not “Andy Griffith-theme-song” catchy – these guys are dealing with a little heavier material.  The album title, the solid black record cover background, and the music found inside that cover imply something a little less soft and cuddly than their band name.  Singer/pianist Steve Patterson’s anxious vocals create an eerie feel that’s surrounded by smooth, and often upbeat rhythms.  Their music has been labeled as dance-punk, and though that’s not the most accurate categorization, the songs certainly are dance-friendly toe-tappers.  More so than in most dance-punk, though, natural-sounding percussion drives the album’s dance feel, while its catchy bass and guitar riffs are merely secondary.

It’s worth mentioning – okay, it’s imperative to mention that Britt Daniel produced the LP, and Spoon producer Mike McCarthy mixed it.  Surprise!  Unless you’ve heard it already, in which case you’ve doubtlessly noticed the similarities.  From the semi-maniacal laughter that introduces the album, (see Spoon’s “Back to the Life”) to the cool, but grammatically lackadaisical title “They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong” (see Spoon’s “Don’t You Evah” and “You Gotta Feel It”) to the minor key patterns, to Patterson’s and Daniel’s sometimes indistinguishable voices, It’s Frightening is teeming with Spoon influence.  But don’t mince my words.  White Rabbits are anything but knock-offs.  In fact, this similitude is more likely a consequence of Daniel’s and McCarthy’s influence as mixer and producer than the Rabbits’ admiration of their Austinian role models.  Besides, if there’s one person who wouldn’t allow an album to rip off Spoon’s material, don’t you think it would be the band’s own front man?

Patterson takes a far more central role as lead singer than in their first record, with other members largely serving as back-up vocalists, and this does add to the Spoonish nature of the record.  However, the Rabbits seamlessly sustain the same unique style they formed in Fort Nightly, one that’s visibly (or I suppose I should say “audibly”) more agitated and feverish than Spoon’s cool, insouciant indie-pop confidence.  Instead, the Rabbits focus on intricate drum beats, (after all, they do have two drummers at their disposal) haunting harmonization, and a steady balance of bass, guitar, and piano.  And a harsh, new electronic element wonderfully compliments the tense melody of “Lionesse,” a song whose metallic, clandestine texture could easily place it in a Mission Impossible or James Bond soundtrack.  The album is well arranged, unwinding from the loud, frantic, in-your-face “Percussion Gun” to the soft, solemn “Leave it at the Door” which features Patterson’s piano as its sole instrument.  Somehow the arrangement avoids anti-climax, but instead it provides for a more comfortable and soothing listen.

With their lyrics, the Rabbits create an intriguing and undefined personality, fixated on his (or her, or its) insecurity and lack of dignity.  The character often appears in the form of confrontational dialogue.  “Percussion Gun”’s opening line could portray a meeting between former friends, when Patterson bitterly asks, “well, how do you do?/a kiss on the cheek/well, it’s been awhile/so I’ll just beg, borrow, and steal all our time.”  He’s got the same acrimony in “The Salesman (Tramp Life)” when he cries, “So sue me/we’ll see how you do/make me an offer no one can refuse.”  Even some of the track names themselves contain traces of self-consciousness (The Clash tribute “Rudy Fails”, “They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong”, and “Midnight and I”).  The words’ meanings remain murky, contributing to the album’s dark ambience, and they leave you wondering whether the lyrics were written to fit the music or vice versa.  For all I know, they could have been created simultaneously, but that’s as irrelevant as the meaning of the lyrics themselves.  What matters is that, to us outsiders, they seem like they were made for each other.  The White Rabbits understand this, and that’s one reason the professional six-piece will continue to take care of their serious, Stygian business.  And who knows – after that, they made decide to lighten up a bit.  But, like guitarist Greg Roberts quipped, they “have to get their New York angst out first.”

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