Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: White Lung – Deep Fantasy

Vancouver, British Columbia seems to have rather more to offer than Nardwuar The Human

 

Vancouver, British Columbia seems to have rather more to offer than Nardwuar The Human Serviette’s sensational Evaporators: the mighty White Lung release their third album in four years; the second of which, Sorry, furnished the girl-dominated quartet with well-deserved acclaim. Now, it appears their career-trajectory is bound to experience yet another cracking upshot. The heady Deep Fantasy sees outspoken feminist Michelle Way (who regularly condemns things that piss her off on self-titled and Vice) et al launch a cost-effective ten-track barrage that freely targets topics like body dysmorphia and drug use with confident fervour. Yet, in spite of the LP’s extraordinary focus, boredom admittedly might just rear its head after multiple encounters in a short space of time. Deep Fantasy will still, however, buttress the position that White Lung are a force of, not just ‘girl-punk’, but the modern genre as a whole. 

Gender-issues foster contentious grounds wherever they tread – even in punk, which has typically strived for a non-sexist agenda. But in the Internet Age, more people have opinions and many of them are less than positive, particularly for women in rock bands that don’t rely on their own sexuality for marketing purposes. To avoid the Sky Ferreira debate, let’s review how Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace put a wonderfully ironic spin on the concept of using one’s sexuality as a selling-point. Grace recently publicly came out as transgender and, having completed her transition last year, the central theme on Transgender Dysphoria Blues is self-evident. By extension, the excellent offering dealt with discomfort in one’s skin and made it something that the nearly everyone could relate to. 

On the flipside, Michelle Way, with her dangerously charismatic persona and vocal performances – which charge neck-and-neck alongside the band’s flawlessly timed, crushing instrumentals – commands the listener’s confidence in her opinions. Like Grace, Way picks her battles on the album via personal experience, but scans a broader range of interrelated topics broadly birthed of power-relationships. As a woman in the public eye, of the aforementioned guitar-band variety, Way has learnt how to handle detractors and knows how to make a point, over and above the decibels of her band. Recently, while onstage, the frontwoman was accused by an older male – and punk fan – of not listening to Corrosion of Conformity and that the t-shirt she wore was likely purchased at Urban Outfitters. Way held no prisoners in publically lambasting her assailant, who she now refers to as a friend and who apparently sends her boxes of t-shirts in the mail. Tellingly, Way told Pitchfork that she could, in spite of her shameless calling him out, see where the man was coming from: “When you grow up loving and identifying with music so strongly – and you shape your whole life around it – you’re so overprotective of it”. 

Way’s perceptiveness and holistic outlook, belied by the prickly exterior, translates poignantly to her lyricism on Deep Fantasy. In her ability to see things from different angles, she is able to fashion silver linings in their ostensible absence. For example, on ‘I Believe You’ – Way’s response to rape-culture, she chooses to focus on the camaraderie between friends, and the strength borne therefrom, when the title’s words are uttered in response to a one confiding in another; In Way’s case, having a friend reveal they were sexually abused. The vocalist’s anti-victim attitude calls for the alternative of a thick skin – evident as she leaves behind her demons from the get-go with the opener-cum-caveat ‘Drown with the Monster’. 

Compared to the broad-palated warrior-punk pastiche of Dysphoria Blues, or anything that the band themselves have done before, Deep Fantasy graces 2014’s rock spread with an overall package that is markedly more boisterous but lacks none of the resolve. The same can be said about the album’s tuneful lustre, in spite of its penetrative clamour. The songs shred, but are still catchy. Both ‘Down It Goes’ and ‘Snake Jaw’ are intense, chugging numbers that delve into the negative complexities of sexuality, yet are, in spite of the subject matter, positively empowering listening experiences. The same can be said for most of the album, including the venomous assault of ‘Sycophant’.  

Way’s captivating persona notwithstanding, listening to Deep Fantasy proves White Lung to be an act that supersedes the sum of its parts. Drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou is good throughout, and keeps the tightness of this unit as one of its greatest assets. Former Wax Idols’ bassist and new-addition Hether Fortune holds her own, while guitarist Kenneth William carves out his vital role in this troupe with destructive finesse. The interplay between the band’s instrumentals and Way’s vocals bear eternal appeal. But from the commence, through to the steadfast ‘Wrong Star’, to powerful closer ‘In Your Home’, the songs never break the three-minute barrier and the band seem never to breath. And, for better or for worse, they deprive the listener of the same luxury.

Deep Fantasy’s headstrong nature is perhaps its defining characteristic, but after some time, threatens to be its undoing, before the listener reaches a second naiveté of sorts: realising it’s the band’s way that actually matters here. Nearly every one of these songs may be boasted about on the same set of merits. And whilst this suggests praiseworthy, cross-album consistency, it is problematic in the realm of longevity. There are moments of less-visible excellence, underneath the blaring strong-points – primarily lyrical but not restricted thereto – that may indeed take revisits to unpack; but the rapid tumult with which they are perpetually accompanied becomes tiresome. Though, quickly, the reality quickly dawns that this band is, down to its very core, unsubtle. The only means with which to communicate whatever it is that Way writes down is the manner in which they’ve done so on Deep Fantasy – at least for the moment. Anything different would have constituted self-betrayal. 

With bands like Savages, and now White Lung, girl-punk is swiftly proving itself not to be a subgenre in the modern age but rather an outdated grouping for some of genre’s pioneering bands. Moreover, the latter and the likes of Against Me! are merging personal experiences with hard-hitting musicianship and vocals – all while maintaining some pop-sensibilities – to spark necessary conversations about sexuality and power on a broader spectrum in rock n roll. Impressively, this album is clear about its austere agenda but still manages to be an uplifting experience. Indeed, the unforgivingly explosive tracks become a bit much to digest, time and time again. But Deep Fantasy isn’t about mileage: it’s about making a statement, and that’s what White Lung appear to do best.

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