White Willow - Signal to Noise - 2006 - The Laser's Edge
1. Night Surf 2. Splinters 3. Ghosts 4. Joyride 5. The Lingering 6. The Dark Road 7. Chrome Dawn 8. Dusk City 9. Ararat
White Willow is not a name too many metalheads will be familiar with, but with the modern trend in the metal scene towards highly eclectic libraries, this Norwegian group may be poised to make the leap. And although their latest album, ‘Signal To Noise’, is far from metal in nearly all respects, most fans will at least be able to appreciate its complexity and professionalism.
Opener ‘Night Surf’ arrives a little too abruptly before closing well and the following ‘Splinters’ is one of the album’s strongest tracks, with memorable hooks and an airy composition that belies its eight minute length. Over nine total tracks and fifty minutes, ‘Signal To Noise’ lays out a lush tapestry of vintage prog instrumentation (mellotrons, flutes, etc., evoking such classics as ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’), lovelorn lyrics delivered by a breathy Trude Eidtang, and rock/pop underpinnings to maintain a forward momentum.
After a few albums of experimentation, bandleader Jacob Holm-Lupo has found that final element of ‘light’ rock to be the most critical to White Willow’s success, and he refines its influence throughout ‘Signal To Noise’. His songwriting is far from monotonous, though, and from tambourines and Cranberries-styled choruses to moody and wandering instrumentals, ‘Signal to Noise’ flexes its diversity without disrupting its flow. In fact, with its gliding synths in the background and a pervasive sense of muted melancholy, this album sometimes feels like prog rock’s take on The Postal Service’s ‘Give Up’, which galvanized the indie scene back in 2003.
As one might expect, the fusion of prog and light rock does not always come together as it should. The best songs of the album fully embrace their identity, whether it be meringue airiness or more exotic instrumentals. Others try to blend the two moods and fall short, and some fans may be turned off by the album’s rather fluffy sound overall. ‘The Dark Road’, for example, is a ballad plagued by mawkish lyrics and a chorus unfortunately redolent of musician-comedian Stephen Lynch (see his ‘Lullaby’). Similar lyrics threaten to derail other songs such as ‘The Lingering’, but Trude’s earnest, intimate performance and the band’s strong instrumental support bring it back on track for a stirring conclusion.
And this is the nature of the album, overall. With its deft combination of tension and grace, ‘Signal to Noise’ transforms its shortcomings into fairly negligible idiosyncrasies that one might even argue are crucial to the album’s portrayal of emotional fragility. With further releases of this caliber, White Willow may bring to Norway’s progressive rock scene the same reverence that Spiral Architect did for its progressive metal scene. While White Willow do not yet enjoy the name-dropping status of Sigur Ros or gravity of their art rock legend inspirations, this album finds them well on the path to modern longevity and prog rock acclaim.
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