I don’t think I’ll avoid getting through this review without mentioning them, so I’ll just get it over and done with in the first sentence: Spoon. That’s the band name that’s followed Brooklyn’s White Rabbits ever since Britt Daniel produced their second release It’s Frightening. The connection continues on new record Milk Famous which is produced by Spoon’s own occasional cohort Mike McCarthy, and I’m sure it’s a source of irritation to White Rabbits that they’re always mentioned in the same breath as the other band. However, the similarities – at times – can’t be denied. It would be harsh, though, to label them copyists as there’s enough on this record to identify the band as sonic adventurers in their own right.
The main difference between It’s Frightening and Milk Famous is the drumming. The former was a real drummer’s album with percussion to the fore (the aptly-named ‘Percussion Gun’ being the prime example) and a live-in-the-studio feel to each song, but this time around the drums take a back seat, slightly low in the mix and restrained until Jamie Levinson and Matthew Clark (if you’ve seen White Rabbits live you’ll know how thrilling the two, or three, drum setup is) are unleashed on the great Krautrocking groove and shimmy of ‘Danny Come Inside’. Elsewhere, Milk Famous becomes a headphones record, revealing the layers of sound the band has created. To the fore are synths, electronics and studio trickery, but that’s not at the expense of Stephen Patterson’s lovely falsetto and way with a melody, nor does it smother the guitars of co-vocalist/writer Gregory Roberts and Alex Even. So, we have opener ‘Heavy Metal’ which, rather than being an exercise in riffing, updates Hall and Oates with some looped backwards piano and stabs of dissonant electric guitar, while ‘I’m Not Me’ switches between crunching riffs and punchy piano to come off like late-era Beatles.
‘Hold It To The Fire’ is the first song that really shows off the Spoon-esque studio wizardry, with Patterson’s vocals alternately in-your-face and just off-mike (like some of Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga album), but it actually ends up sounding like one of Radiohead’s dubbier excursions, and is really rather fantastic. ‘Are You Free’ sees the first appearance of the fiery intensity of It’s Frightening, and is all coruscating guitars and swirling electronics, with ‘Back For More’ and ‘The Day You Won The War’ keeping up the pace with welcomingly thumping percussion. Album closer ‘I Had It Coming’ slows things down with a chugging acoustic number, Patterson singing about a relationship on the rocks. I’ve not touched much on the lyrics of the record but they are certainly worth a mention – whilst they can be cryptic at times the general theme does seem to be the collapse of a relationship. Patterson has spoken of how touring the last record damaged a relationship – not beyond repair – and the songs, intentionally or not, have a hint of a darkness to them that jars with the shocking pink of the album cover. But it’s all about contrasts, and Milk Famous has plenty of those.
There’s enough here to ensure that the comparisons with you-know-who will stop soon enough; this is a confident-sounding band standing on their own two feet, experimenting and moving out of a possible comfort zone. It would have been easy to make It’s Frightening Pt2, but White Rabbits have expanded their sound, meaning they can go anywhere they like for the next record, and do so without any fear.