Tuesday, 13 August 2013

White Lies - Big TV

 

Picture this for one moment: a White Lies gig whereby there's little extroversion of activity or liveliness from both the crowd or the act standing atop the stage performing, what should be, the pinnacle of their material from their follow-up. Now picture the succeeding, ridiculousness of the crowd changing their stance by body-stomping and straining their vocal chords to the likes of Death or To Lose My Life when they finally get their turn in live form. I feel inclined to blame the fans that night (to which I had the 'luxury' of standing amongst) for showing little compassion for tracks that aren't - as Eddie perfectly surmised in his track review last week - some stadium-filling appealling to the masses to sound like some moodier, deeper-induced Coldplay, or the like. The fact however, is that White Likes have only themselves to blame for deliberately setting out to over-analyze the aesthetics of 80's post-punk and contemporary 'alternative' British energy. That's not to say debut To Lose My Life, and follower Ritual by result, were terrible full-stop. My feeling was (and still is) that their remaining in such a rut, shows them up as a band who've listened far too many times to their favourite 80's acts to the point their creative process is, in result, little more than replication. In the case of 2011's sophomore: the result of reading up on more cinematic and orchestral deliveries, but focusing simply on the process and never on its integration from an album stand-point. Sure, the latter had its moments, and while I wouldn't go as far as to class vocalist Harry McVeigh's genius to that of a 'I love to dance/My mother's from France' tier (that's not a White Lies line by the way), it was clear that the band were never going to attract attention for narration.

I can't say I'm surprised to find Big TV keeping to that equilibrium mind-set of being one for the post-punk atmosphere, but too pushing the established out into more contemporary allusions of 'experimentation'. But while their sophomore two years ago peaked at its orchestral tendencies and no more, White Lies' third album, from image alone, gives the impression of a more futurist and exploratory variance in their sound. Well if comparisons are to be made and statements are to at least hold some truth, the opening self-titled track certainly adds some promise. Here, the band's peculiar carbon copy of stadium anthem euphoria, is toned down, 'Slow/I'm going to settle down slow' McVeigh expresses in the first lines of Big TV's breadth of looming atmospherics and artificial strings that soon settle into the archetypal hand-waving-attempts thereafter. There are the atypical climatic swells of choral guitar sweeps and percussion (though not as sought-after or considered unfortunately here), but the feeling is that even with this predicted rise of absorbent instrumentation, stylistically the track has a charming level of care and consideration to its vocal delivery and its context. There Goes Our Love Again follows in the same light sonically in its emphasis more on the stretch of effect-laiden guitar feedback, even if lyrics clearly strive to fulfill that one-liner 'stuck in the head so as to be repeated back at concerts' objective. 'I didn't go far, I didn't go far/I didn't go far and I came home' admittedly doesn't have as much the same tenacity or execution as fellow singles held, and while McVeigh himself proves doubters our concern with control is now his concern too, musically there's not much to deviate away from what is a track lacking any real drive, narrative purveyance, and worse, consideration for clean and proper mixing.

Once we're out the first of the album's 'Space' interludes - the first of the pair giving off, again, something of a charming flutter that's far more discoverable and venturous than the post-punk graveling of relational anxiety - First Time Caller is White Lie's first proper and clearer ballad on relationships and the longing for such a thing. The track's deliberation between slow trotting drum beats and audacious guitar chords, makes for an interesting formula as the song shifts between chirpy synth arpeggios and McVeigh's dissection of one's loneliness (if a little too metaphoric in places) that evolves into barraging the listener alongside the track's drive of electric guitars and expansive sonics. And surprisingly, on a composition level, it pays off in the closing parts. 'I want you to love me, with more than I love you/Tell me if that's something you can do' he asks - likely in this secretly pleading manner - as the track perfectly breaks out of its anxious confine to close the track with a sound pleasingly more intense and to-the-point than before. So leading into Mother Tongue and the feeling is that McVeigh - if not the band - have finally found a balance between emphasizing the context of the situation and the intensity of the music, without over-saturating either as a result. More-so, amidst the track's choral unleashing of guitar and drums, McVeigh shows better control and understanding in how to use such range in vocals to signify importance. Instrumentally too, the band convey a recognition of interplay and benefit in offering descending chord strums and percussion hits, into the lyrical swing and adding further objective detail and emotive intensity.

But the irony however, while progressing through this album, is that White Lies - while preferring to project a sense of [sonic and emotional] liberation and desire for self-awareness ('It's the worst part of the best of me/Love I'm trying so hard to be free' springs up on the blunt, yet strangely excited and accepting tone, of Getting Even) - still end up treading the same musical and textural ground in their music. Despite such improvement on their lyrical prowess - while it does add some contention for optimism in that the band's narrowness of subject matter, is at least fleshed out and being scrutinized a bit more - musically, there is still that nagging frustration that the band never really set out or intend for their compositions to appeal from the base up...or to put it another way, from the very start. Things do still feel like they're caught in that precarious 'build, build, build, DROP!' trope, even if vocally and relationally, White Lies exert a better comfort and understanding with how, say, guitar dynamics can interplay amid a vocal's narrative and delivery. This may be down to the album's [once more] drowning production choices, and the way sounds come across like they're bleeding far too much into one another; the texture of percussion losing their visceral quality because of the guitar's extruding intensity...and vice versa. It's proof sadly - as noted with the lead single's biggest crime production-wise - that a band such as this come to recording with the mind-set of a sell-out stadium or decibel-ruptured concert...rather than the respect, sonically, of a solid medium.

But even with this shot-in-the-foot, it's pleasing when we come to likely the band's most ironically-named, ironically-timed Change that there's a baffling success story to White Lies' use to mixing and orientating sounds. The hazed humbleness to the track's soft melancholy of piano leads McVeigh's admittance to not just a relationship finally ending, but also to watching that former partner moving on. Strengthened by the music's loft of distorted ambiance of electronics, White Lies pull off one of their most accomplished attempts at emphasizing emotional strain, and succeeding via the music's apparent indecisiveness on whether (in regards to the theme of the piece) to accept the situation...or break down as a result. 'If you need to find yourself in the arms of someone else, I wish you on your way' he expresses however, though still in something of an ambiguity of intent - lyrics professing a great amount of honesty and acceptance, though not holding up as well, in small places, to some minor stagnant choices of word-pairing, 'I'm going to miss the way I missed you...But I'll be brave if you'll be brave'. Though despite this, the overwhelming honesty and simplicity of the track works - projecting the narrative as one of directness and clarity, rather than muffling it with unwanted chord changes or verse-to-chorus transitions.

Be Your Man, while returning to the more recognizable pompous, spry of guitar-and-drum intensity, seems to focus more on the positivity and the confidence emphasized in McVeigh's lyrical and emotional delivery. And though there's little to characterize and deviate musically from any of the band's other maddened attempts to spring positivity on us, there's a consolation in how attractive McVeigh's attempt is, in creating sheen and a projection of distance; his voice radiating far more briskly and confidently across the track's audacity of electric guitars and percussion. Heaven Wait is another example of White Lies showing more their softer and tentative side. Here, the opening creep of distant strings and brash synth tones tends to want more a focus on the tension and the context to the track, rather than its paramount expression of one's self in as intense a way as possible. The subtleness of the marching band drums too offer a deviation away from simply 'expressing' and instead feel more like they're carving the scene to which the track is likely to play out in. It's disappointing then that the music never really sets off or fulfills this allusion of promised scenery and its build up to something, within reason; instead flattening out into a teeter of strings that, even worse, sound as far from organic or illustrative as any of the band's use of such tone has been in the past. Goldmine ends by showing better usage this time of the band's jagged guitar delivery. But again, while there's some enticement in the band's better understanding of gelling instrumental sway into McVeigh's one-after-the-other delivery, I'm let down (a case many tracks on this album have found themselves the culprit of) by how overwhelming and dominating the messy production and mixing is.

If you're like me and have followed (and I use that verb in a loose context) this band's progress from their very first [forceful] presentation onto the UK's declining tragi-comedy of indie rock, you're likely to come away from Big TV (as much you do so toward it, to begin with) with negativity nagging you more than the benefits, thankfully, the band intend to offer. Gone is the predecessor's indecisiveness in direction and sonic identity. In its place is a record that - while still trying to make the majority of its songs sound like blistered anthems first, and songs second - isn't afraid to admit its confining one's self to themes barely moving off the path of love, anxiety and reality. As strange as it sounds, White Lies' strict, somewhat linear progression is what this album succeeds at; paying off far more than previous records did, and as close as they've got thus far, into perfecting their sound without coming off like rough-cut knock-offs of two-decade old greats. Big TV may be a victim of its own grand voyage for dynamics, but at the very most, the London trio tackle the album's intentions with a greater degree of dignity and self-doubt on whether or not something works...or as the case may be, whether or not they're reluctant to stop thinking ahead to performing such material live. Understandably so, some efforts don't pay off. But when they do, this their life-long passion for moody-turn-rich content, excels towards something far more direct, and at times, tugs at the heartstrings without tugging too at the throat and stomach. Keep going guys; you're getting better.
~Jordan

6.8

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