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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Album Review: White Orange - s/t

White Orange - s/t
2011 Made in China Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

While everyone in their mother in the sludge underground has been riding the rails Josh Homme has dropped on his way as a would-be anti-hipster, the Kyuss-worshipping acolytes out there the past few years have brought a mixed bag of results. Repetition is not necessarily the purest form of flattery.

At least some bands, like Portland's White Orange, remember to twist the scheme with other variables to their trippy, mucky form of psych rock. Try a little shake of Hawkwind with dabs of The White Stripes, Mudhoney and the Melvins, and you're getting close to what White Orange's capabilities are in morphing their Kyuss-grounded fuzz jams.

Pretty considerable, when you catch a ticking vibe out the gate on "Where" that transitions into a tasty bob 'n nod jam, while "Middle of the Riddle" might be a demonstrative replication of where Josh Homme was swimming mentally before starting Queens of the Stone Age. Somewhere in that song is a wallowy portal where distortion and transluence meet. Ditto for "Dinosaur Bones," which rides its mid-tempo crash on the spook of a curious alt haunt. Here is where White Orange seeks to distance themselves from comparison. "Dinosaur Bones" is and is what you think it's going to be, and once it takes its own leap of faith into a pool of distortion, White Orange does so in explorative manner. Better yet, they remember to quickly step back into the foundation of the song instead of drowning in ersatz.

White Orange does get pretty danged weird (i.e. "Wonderful," "Sunspots" and "Kill the Kids"), but if you've spent any time at all around the Sub Pop, Enigma and SST labels, you're well-acclimated to the experimental droning, chunky riffs and milky vocal swerves of Dustin Hill. Hill's gurgling huffs are sometimes akin to cutting loose in front of a floor fan, and they suit White Orange's spaced-out lunacy. They may not sound like they know what they're doing at times, but most assuredly they do. The wah-filled soloing on "Kill the Kids" and "Sunspots" is proof enough.

Still, White Orange isn't necessarily for everyone. While they know how to grab an ear with some volume and some well-grounded hooks, these later serve more as groundwork to tinker about overtop the longer this album grinds on. White Orange has an appreciable knack for decorating the obvious. As the album continues on its unknown (from the listener's POV) path, Kyuss meets Sonic Youth (i.e. "Sunspots" and "Save Me") and happily jumps into Hawkwind's mystical space toaster. You'll either be baking with White Orange or you'll be asking for the next shuttle out of their zero-g nebula.

Not a slam on this band whatsoever. White Orange is a rather creative unit who offers their audience far more than the usual nod to "Turbo Blimp Jumbo" and "50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up)." It helps to spin Kyuss' Blues For the Red Sun before coming to White Orange, just so you have the proper mindset. Their swampy yet astral "Sigourney Weaver" is more inventive than implied, particularly if you throw yourself somewhere between Aliens and Gorillas in the Mist. Only someone who's subjected himself to Kyuss every afternoon before band practice could come up with something so bold.

Rating: ***1/2


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