Based on “The Plot,” the tambourine shaking first single off of White Rabbits’ debut Fort Nightly, it’s tempting to assume these gents are merely a standard rock band, one with the same Stones, Stooges and Bowie fetishism as any other New York band outfitted with shaggy haircuts and Les Pauls. And, for what it’s worth, “The Plot” is pretty good, especially when the chorus of “he’s not impressed” overlaps vocalist Greg Roberts’ “whoas” in the song’s denouement. But that’s actually about as normal as the band gets, which is to say that there’s very little that’s normal about White Rabbits at all.
Considering the group has had Liberace comparisons thrown their way and calls themselves “honky-tonk calypso” on their MySpace page, it doesn’t take long to realize that straight up rock `n’ roll is the farthest thing from this six-piece’s objective. That calypso influence is quite apparent on “Kid On My Shoulders,” the leadoff track to Fort Nightly. With maraca shaking exoticism, a Weill-ian theatricality and slick, reverb-heavy guitar riffs, “Kid On My Shoulders” is just about the most exciting rock song around at the moment, and quite an impressive arrangement at that. There’s a Specials/Fun Boy Three quality to “Dinner Party,” in which ornate piano riffs combine with a baritone sax in a strange, two-tone garage rock horror movie soundtrack.
“Navy Wives” opens like a Walkmen song, piano ringing out against scratchy guitar riffs, yet Caribbean rhythms seep their way into a verse that sounds suspiciously like “Spanish Bombs.” Needless to say, it’s pretty great, as is “While We Go Dancing,” a pounding rock song that builds tension ever so subtly, but when it releases its pent up energy during the chorus, it shifts from dirty and distorted indie rock to an opulent, old-timey sound, albeit one backed with a solid and heavy drum beat. Meanwhile, “I Used to Complain Now I Don’t” has a Latin-meets-Afrobeat feel, with a tune similar to Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” backed by horns courtesy of Beirut’s Jon Natchez. It’s a hell of a fiesta, one that rocks awfully hard, to boot. Further cementing the Specials comparisons is “March of the Camels,” which has a definite “Ghost Town” feel to it, yet carries a bit of Oingo Boingo and Man Man in its spectral breakdowns as well.
There’s not much more satisfying than being pleasantly surprised by an album from an artist of which you have little to no prior knowledge. Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of White Rabbits, so suffice to say, I had never actually heard them either. As of the time of this review, they’re one of my favorite new discoveries of 2007, and all it took was one dizzying, off-kilter and giddy spin of Fort Nightly.
MP3: “The Plot”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.