Friday, May 13, 2011

Record review: White Mystery - 'Blood & Venom'

Posted by Andrew Hertzberg 

Anyone involved with Chicago’s independent music scene is already quite acquainted with White Mystery. They’ve answered thousands of questions in interviews, played almost every building in the city, they are involved in the local art scene beyond music and the duo Alex and Francis are children to photographer Diane Alexander White, famous for capturing the Disco Demolition in 1979. Their ubiquity in this city is beyond impressive. Needless to say, the DIY and pop-art aesthetics go beyond music for them and are an entire way of life. After an extensive tour already this year as well as seven performances at SXSW, the Mystery Team head to NYC next week to bring Chicago’s finest garage rock for a week long stretch of shows in various venues. It might be almost time to let the rambunctious redheads graze on greater pastures.

But for now, we’ve got Blood & Venom, the follow up to their eponymous debut from last year. The album picks up right where they left off, although they either made 10 louder or went up to 11. Alex’s vocals move even further up front in the mix, and the reverb is heavy, distorted even on the opening "Whoop!" The first track is an introduction, "White Mystery," and admittedly a bit anachronistic for a second album. But hey, if Meet the Beatles can pass for a second album, I guess we can let that slide. Besides, with the pummeling distorted drums and blood-gushing feedback, you can’t think too intellectually about this. It’s more carnal than rational. After all, it’s garage rock, and the sound is nailed.

Major differences between the two albums include a slight breather between tracks, allowing easier differentiation between songs. Timing between the siblings seems a bit more cleaned up too, either because they’ve become more precise and coordinated or they allowed for multiple takes. It doesn’t take away from the gritty nature, however: sloppy playing doesn’t always equal quality. This shows more restraint which allows for greater dynamic flow throughout the album.

The lyrical imagery keeps in touch with alternative cultural tropes: “Smoke in the jungle / fire in the forest,” whiskey, cigarettes, “I don’t wanna be a good girl,” highways, trouble, denim…it’s all there.  Likewise, underground parties are praised here as well on the sequential tracks aptly titled "Birthday" and "Party." The upbeat major chord-driven "Dead Inside" is an interesting contrast with the depressive, unmotivated nature of the lyrics. "1985" recounts the story of the siblings, revealing birth dates and their recognition of their place in history.

Album closer "Kickin My Ball" is a harmonica-led, noisy and simplistic existential closer. It reminded me of two things. First, the Pure Being Ball Thing from I Heart Huckabees (be prepared to hear why this is the greatest movie of all time if you ever bring it up with me). The second was from a Q&A session comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell once had involving a woman finding her "knife." It really has to do with the woman getting in touch with her masculine side, as she would carry this knife around everywhere with her. She felt a certain power and control that she never had before, a new meaning to her life. I’ve decided to misinterpret and metaphorize the story for my own benefit, always being on the lookout for my own "knife." As kickin’ her ball can be Miss Alex’s momentary knife, so too is her fronting such a ferocious and wild group in a scene generally dominated by dudes. Even without national attention just yet, she is cementing her place among strong female contemporaries as Carrie Brownstein and Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs.

'Blood & Venom' is out now. And don’t worry; the future isn’t as bleak as my introduction may have made it sound. Ever committed to local enterprise, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to catch WM this summer outside of conventional venues. The dates so far: 

May 28th at Reckless Records
June 3rd at the Museum of Contemporary Art
June 5th at Do Division Fest
June 30th at Taste of Chicago
August 4th at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park 


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