Secluded for the better part of the last year, the London quintet, Zulu Winter, wrote and recorded their debut album, with little to no wrap up, outside two tremendously popular singles, “Never Leave” and “Let’s Move Back to Front”, followed by “We Should Be Swimming”. They received the typical accolades that incur dozens of comparisons to contemporaries, some more warranted than others. With a list of influences and references as distinct as Armenian director Sergei Parajanov and Alice Coltrane, it’s hard to know what to make of the final product, Language. Frontman Will Daunt leads the band with his falsetto vocals and penchant for xylophones, albeit with little innovation, continuing the argument that Zulu Winter might not be completely living up to their potential.
Claimed as the umpteenth “new Vaccines”, it’s natural for the hype machine to go on overdrive with Zulu Winter, especially when nearly every blog reviews and artist’s first work, even if it’s only been months since their formation. Going on small tour with similar acts Clock Opera and Outfit, then venturing to America at the early part of this year, they kept their album completely under wraps outside of the few tracks they played on the road. Opening for the massively popular band Keane, they opened themselves up to comparisons won’t stop anytime soon. The restrictive nature of being a “buzz band” seemingly took its toll, and the pressure to continue on their current route was overwhelming, but the music still contains a certain appeal, even if it’s to an audience of mainstream pop fans.
The opener, “Key To My Heart” starts off with Afrobeat percussion and droning field recordings, alluding to a grandiose spirit that never quite arrives. Not a bad song, but the song never evolves into what it promised. “We Should Be Swimming” is a great step up, with throbbing bass that could be played on any dance floor on both sides of the Atlantic, but again it doesn’t live up to expectations. The songs that follow (“Bitter Moon” through “Silver Tongue”) continue on the same vein. The first single “Let’s Move Back to Front”, provides something different. It has a strong Morrissey influence; there’s no other way to describe such macabre lyrics delivered in such a delighted manner.
I suppose I’m mostly baffled at the lack of experimentation, the likes of which they had alluded to in interviews and articles I’ve read over the past few months. Despite the various mixtapes they posted to their blog or the mentions of musical influences such as Bradford Cox, the crisp, detailed, run-of-the-mill nature of their production proved much to the contrary. While I enjoyed most of the album, I couldn’t differentiate where the aforementioned influences started and where the lofty contemporary sound ended. From the heap of sound, the best comparison I can draw is to English indie rock band Wild Beasts, but again, this band’s biggest detriment is their lack of identity; I can only draw comparisons and cite obvious influences.
While the record has its various flaws, and I have my various reservations, Zulu Winter have assembled a well-crafted first effort. It’s easy to take offense at failure to deliver on their promises and ambitions, especially with a band whose reputation precedes them so much as Zulu Winter, but despite its various shortcomings Language has an underlining groundwork for something more inspired.
White Rabbits seem to perpetually find themselves opening for other bands because their music is malleable. You can dance to it, really listen to the lyrics, or, sometimes, forget it entirely, and all of these things are true of their third album, “Milk Famous.”
For the indie-pop inclined, “Milk Famous” succeeds on many levels. The album offers exactly what is expected of accessibly upbeat music by way of crisply recorded songs about vaguely beautiful imagery and possibly complicated relationships. It never comes in with too much baggage and is light enough to play at virtually any time. “Temporary”, one of the stronger tracks on the album, is perpetuated by catchy hooks and a bass-line that won’t quit. White Rabbits penned the track smartly, calling upon familiar sounds but still keeping their own voice intact. The melody on “Hold It To The Fire” is positively DeathCab-esque as the vocals fade in and out of clarity, at one moment sounding crystal-clear and then as if it’s coming through a pay-phone the next.
White Rabbits find a nice balance of electronic effects to maintain their organic sound without going overboard. The ominous piano layered on “It’s Frightening” adds an interesting texture to their concordance. Also, the beat that’s incorporated into the hilariously titled “Heavy Metal” is dizzying and fresh, especially with sexy lyrics like “I’m a collector/Who’s collecting you.” Even though the lyrics are accompanied by the sound of piano notes in reverse, which seem to still be lingering from the early 2000’s when Keane reigned supreme, White Rabbits meet the sound with a rejuvenated nature.
“Everyone Can’t Be Confused” is where many Spoon fans may call foul on account of how much White Rabbits seem to be borrowing from that specific sound. Those fans should be aware of the history White Rabbits have with Spoon; Britt Daniel produced their second album and Mike McCarthy, who previously produced Spoon’s music, produced “Milk Famous”, so there was bound to be some spill-over into each other’s sound and, aside from basic tonality, White Rabbits differentiate themselves enough to squash any claim of theft. Even if they sound like Spoon, hey, it’s still Spoon. There are much, much worse bands they could emulate.
While “Milk Famous” will satisfy an appetite for lovely dance-rock, White Rabbits may not make a memorable impression on many music fans. They possess the necessary ingredients to become indie-pop demi-gods but this record is not complete proof. It is, however, a wonderful opportunity for them to see what works well and what doesn’t, which gives hope that their future records will benefit.
White Rabbits have solidified themselves in the current music climate and “Milk Famous” only perpetuates notions of their older music with occasional moments of experimentation. If they aren’t concerned with anything other than writing fun and honest music, they’re doing an excellent job and it will undoubtedly pay off in the future.