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Artist: White

Album: White

Label: Open Note

Review date: Aug. 7, 2009

Unlike so many other countries, independent bands from China have yet to establish any real presence in the U.S. Given that country’s increasing profile around the world and its young people’s energy, we should hope that we’ll begin hearing a great deal from there in the future. This debut album from Beijing’s White could well be the first blast, and if so, it’s certainly a promising one.

Dusted featured White in its Destined series back at the beginning of 2007 and predicted they would be a band to watch that year. Clearly, it took a bit longer than that, but this self-titled debut album, produced by Einsturzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld, should see the band earning well-deserved attention.

The above-mentioned feature covers the duo’s origins, but, in short, White’s sound comes from a combination of decaying electronics, repetitive rhythms and unexpectedly affecting melodies. Both members contribute plenty of analog sounds, with Shou Wang on guitar and Shenggy’s percussion a core component. It’s a bit too easy to say that Bargeld’s production places them squarely in a Neubauten mold, as they have had their own strong personality for some time. This album’s blend of grit and drama, however, does bear some resemblance to recent Neubauten releases.

The scrapings of "Falling Down,” with its theatrical spoken vocals, the chugging rhythm of "Train Song,” and the metallic pounding of "Conch Crunch" inevitably harken back to Bargeld’s band, but in superficial ways. White always bring their own feel, and more often than not demonstrate a keen ability to carve memorable songs out of unconventional means. A song like "Spring House," for example, layers scraped strings and rumbling percussion into a deep drone, out of which emerge frankly beautiful textures and vocals. "47 Rockets (for Wan Hu)" builds from a simple repetitive guitar and tape loop beginning into a looping construct with a cleverly minimal yet catchy melody.

From riotous cacophony and pulsating machinery to hypnotic vocals and gentle waves of electronics, White make repetition their primary modus operandi, but keep a tight leash on all of their ideas. The motif that starts a song likely won’t last, as another shifts in to take its place, followed by another. The mesmeric vocal refrain and properly industrial rhythm of "Conch Crunch" are taken over by buzzing analog synth, while "Roswitha Strunk" starts as factory-floor scrapings before No Wave drums and guitar crash in, to then be replaced by trance-inducing metal drumming. The gorgeous closer "Bai" doesn’t change so much as evolve, reminiscent of both OOIOO and Kraftwerk with its vocal interplay and thick synths.

White’s hypnotic music manages to include both desolate grit and a clear playfulness, the former lending the album its dense atmospheres, the latter helping to ensure that these are songs, not merely collections of sounds. Shenggy’s vocals are key, but the creaky keyboards and bursts of guitar also come together to focus the pieces and make them memorable. At a wisely-economical 44 minutes, the album will have you returning for more each time. I’ll be hoping to see a tour, as one can easily imagine these songs achieving a different, powerful aspect when performed live.

By Mason Jones

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