album reviews

White Whale
Merge Records (2006)

Although "WWI" is the official debut of Lawrence, Kan., band White Whale, the group has been developing for several years now. Former Butterglory singer Matt Suggs tapped three members of Thee Higher Burning Fire to back him at solo shows in the early 2000s and then added former Get-Up Kids bassist Rob Pope to form White Whale. With such a solid pedigree, it's no surprise that "WWI" is stronger than most debut efforts, containing both the energy of a new project and the depth that comes with years of experience.

Suggs's voice sounds like a cross between Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Paul Westerberg, dripping with a gravelly wisdom on the ballads "Forgive the Forgiven" and "One Prayer." That introspection peaks on the placid "Fidget and Fudge," which channels Radiohead and Pink Floyd with its sludgy, trance-inducing repetitions.

But "WWI" isn't always so subdued: "Nine Good Fingers" alternates between mellow, keyboard-driven verses and howling choruses, while "The Admiral" spirals into an anguished yelp before retreating to a more reflective conclusion. The group's best moments come when there's no hint of restraint: The rollicking "We're Just Temporary Ma'am" carries the passion and the driving energy of a singalong sea chantey, bubbling with an enthusiasm that's impossible to resist.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 3 November 2006, Page WE06
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