With the two songs that were released in advance of this album, “Heavy Metal” and “Temporary,” White Rabbits indicated that they’d found a new level of detail in their sound, at which they’d only hinted at on previous albums. At their core, White Rabbits’ songs have always been fairly simple, but they add extra textures, drum patterns and sound effects to build them up into something more complex. It’s an art form at which they have come close to mastering on Milk Famous, but almost to a fault.
If we take the aforementioned tracks, for instance, we hear White Rabbits at their very best. “Heavy Metal,” the album’s opening track, is basically a rhythm section jam that has some magic sprinkled on it in the form of echoing guitars and swirling piano, while “Temporary” is a straightforward driving jam that is bolstered by the inclusion of extra atmospherics and an extremely catchy chorus. In both of these instances the additional ingredients are built right into the framework of the song, to the point where it feels as though they’d collapse without them. All the best songs on offer on Milk Famous are similar to this, where White Rabbits’ penchant for abstract additions (which some might consider superfluous) doesn’t distract from the core of the song, but adds to it.
However, by taking such a roundabout route to flesh out the complete sound of their songs, they’re sometimes left with tracks that either have too much going on, or, even worse, too little. “I’m Not Me” seems to be packed with extraneous sound effects including a whole five seconds of what sounds like a completely different song tacked onto the end. “It’s Frightening” relies on cascading piano to attempt to turn a boring song into something of interest, but instead it just highlights the lack of ideas going on around it. “Are You Free,” on the other hand, is the one song where they keep it too simple, a little more of their studio wizardry could have saved this one from being a three-minute dirge.
But, overall, as long as you’re willing to, you will more often than not appreciate the high level of craft that has gone into the making of Milk Famous. Be it the caterwauling background guitar that adds tension to “Hold It To The Fire,” the swirling guitars and keyboards that enhance the message of “Everyone Can’t Be Confused,” or the percussion sound on “I Had It Coming” that seems to have been painstakingly designed to perfectly fit the sound and vibe of the song, or one of dozens other minute details on Milk Famous, when you notice it you can’t help but be impressed by White Rabbits’ fastidiousness. It’s these little gems that will keep you replaying the album to try to discover more.
In speaking with band leader Stephen Patterson, I touched upon the fact that White Rabbits have in the past been constantly compared to other acts – something that he found frustrating. With Milk Famous, White Rabbits have made a record that is truly their own, so much so that at points it hurts the record. But, moreover, they’ve finally grown into their sound, and when you’re a bunch of guys with this much dedication to creating a highly specific sound, there’s no limit to what they could do next.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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