Lee, you're on a roll! Two reviews in less than a week? It's nice that someone likes music as much as me, maybe even more... and writing! Now I'm just plain jealous, that's why I'm stalling you from reading his review of:
The Whigs - Mission Control (released January 22, 2008; ATO Records)
Full disclosure: I am a former, and slightly fanatical, Athens, GA resident. As such, January was a great month for me in terms of new music. Athens’ finest the Drive- By Truckers’ latest opus Brighter Than Creation’s Dark does not disappoint, and neither does Chan Marshall’s (Cat Power) latest, Jukebox (that Chan is technically a native of Atlanta, really got her start in New York City, and now lives in Miami does not phase me).
Athens’ residents The Whigs’ second release, Mission Control, (also issued in January) is yet another such record. While the album may play it a little safe at times, what I like about it is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is: straightforward rock n’ roll. And who, at the end of the day, doesn’t enjoy straightforward rock n’ roll*? People I don’t like, that’s who. You know who you are**.
The album announces itself confidently with the opening track Like A Vibration. Immediately one notices the unmistakable similarity between singer Parker Gispert’s voice and that of Dave Grohl’s—a similarity that helps personify both what is great about the album and what is not so great about it. On the one hand, both Grohl and Gispert have cool rock n’ roll voices—strong, spiky, and distinguished. On the other, that both singers sound so alike—and, ergo, The Whigs sound similar to the Foo Fighters—that overall the album is nothing new.
Which, as I’ve said before, doesn’t mean it’s not a good album. I may teasingly refer to Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses as Jim James Mercer, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been able to stop listening to Cease to Begin for the last couple of months. The second track Production City starts off with a staccato Orange Crush kind- of thing before settling in to a groove that makes me think: this is what Minutemen might sound like had they made it to the 21st century. Of course, Production City is longer than a minute and a half and has a melodic chorus. But the scratchy guitar work is reminiscent of the late D. Boon, and the bass playing of Mike Watt. Listen for it.
Similarly, Sleep Sunshine begins with a riff and a theme that vaguely reminds me of Radiohead’s Wolf At The Door before channeling the Athens instrumental combo Japancakes’ warm pedal steel sound. Neither influence seems too overt or gratuitous—in fact Sleep Sunshine is one of the most mature and best songs on the album. It, more than any other song on the record, shows off drummer Julian Dorio’s talents, and I’m sure the song is a highlight live.
Another highlight live, I’m sure, is Already Young. Probably the most commercial song on Mission Control, I can totally hear it on the radio or see it on a Starbucks' sampler. The chorus is melodic and infectious, and, and there’s no better way to say this—it feels good.
So does I Got Ideas, the best and most mature song on the album. It’s promising to see them add extra instrumentation (horns in the chorus) and I hope they continue down this path with future recordings.
No matter what path they’re on, I hope it leads to the Independent or the Rickshaw Stop soon—I am really looking forward to checking these guys out live. I am really looking forward to hearing them play I Never Want To Go Home. I can’t wait to soak up the irony of singing along to the “I don’t want to go home again” chorus, knowing I would go home again, if only to have dinner at Farm 255, a drink at the Mercury Lounge, and then to have my hand stamped at the Caledonia or the 40 Watt for a Whigs’ show.
* - (Besides my parents.)
** - It suddenly occurs to me that I feel compelled to steer this review towards a histrionic rant about hipsters who eschew anything mainstream in the interest of fashion. I don’t want to marginalize the Whigs by doing that. So this passive-aggressive parenthetical is going to have to do.
Keep 'em coming, Lee! Also, we're still looking for fresh new writing talent. Fire me an e-mail to see how you can help out with The Musicologists.
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