Brooklyn sextet White Rabbits know their way around a tight, visceral rock song. “The Plot,” a single from their debut album Fort Nightly, was just such a song, bright and bouncy with hooks packed into every nook and cranny. And “Percussion Gun,” the leadoff track and first single from the band’s new album It’s Frightening is also such a song, but more intense, more forceful. It’s absolutely uncompromising in its inability to drift off into the background. Were this song to begin playing on the radio, it would demand that you take notice.
Yet, even when White Rabbits are playing big, loud rock songs, they’re doing so in a way that avoids the most ordinary or obvious route. “Percussion Gun,” a single no less, opens with gigantic Adam & the Ants percussive clacking (like a gun? Maybe!). And yet the song’s riffs recall (new labelmates) Radiohead in their sparse melancholy, albeit in a catchier, more danceable form. Yet when the band are at their most playful, they can mix the barroom ska of The Specials with a lean, muscular rock `n’ roll swagger.
On It’s Frightening, the group still sounds playful, and still sounds more fun than the majority of groups trying to squeeze the last few drops of inspiration out of rock. With the aid of Spoon’s Britt Daniel on production duty, the group has certainly taken a bit of his sage wisdom on restraint and less-is-more-ism. Hell, at times they even sound like Spoon. On “They Done Wrong/ We Done Wrong,” they strum through a pop track that’s reminiscent of Spoon’s “I Summon You,” but usher in their trademark piano twinkles as the song ascends toward a climax. Yet the album’s strongest points come when Daniel’s production quirks and the Rabbits’ idiosyncratic style manage to shine alongside one another. On “Lionesse,” odd sound effects and menacing percussion clash with haunted house piano and eerie refrains of “listen to me.” With “The Lady Vanishes,” the group heads downward into a spiraling chorus of dark and mysterious melodies, and stunning ones at that. And “The Salesman (Tramp Life)” is a slowly building, tense and thoroughly thrilling epic that manages to layer on the hooks while it simultaneously becomes a tightly wound coil of energy just waiting to explode.
Even when White Rabbits are playing it fairly straight, however, they still manage to crank out some nearly flawless pop songs. Tracks like “Rudie Fails” and “Company I Keep” are just plain good rock tunes. In some ways, White Rabbits have reined in the experimentation on It’s Frightening. But there’s no denying that they’ve undergone a lot of growth in the process as well.
Video: “Percussion Gun”
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.