Lurking deep within the ragged recordings of White Lung‘s early material is a sense of intricacy and purpose. The screeching guitar lines of their 2010 debut had a sturdy backbone that coloured Mish Barber-Way‘s scathing vocals with urgency and volatility. Since then, the band have only sharpened their sound with tighter performances, catchier melodies and a more balanced recording.
The latest project from the Vancouver trio, ‘Paradise’, is the cleanest thing they’ve ever released, but the band’s urgency and intimacy remains intact. For lesser punk bands, a polished studio recording would only serve to highlight songwriting flaws, but White Lung have ran with the opportunity to create songs that become more vivid and impactful within the sonic clarity. The band’s work with producerLars Stalfors (HEALTH; Cold War Kids;) feels fine-tuned, every moment filled with care.
Early highlight ‘Narcoleptic’ is as caustic as anything the band have put to record, with focus placed squarely onto Barber-Way’s exceptional lead vocals, which shift from gritty and swaggering to sharp and soaring across the track. The lyrics are cut-throat and depraved, (“Starve me full of septic,/I’ll become narcoleptic./Safe as milk, he said./Watch my blue turn red“), propelled relentlessly by the sharp blasts of drums and guitar. It’s a scorching track loaded with small details, such as the screamed backing vocals after the first chorus, or the echoey guitars that glisten in the distance on the second verse.
As the song careens into ‘Below’, the band’s diversity really begins to shine through. Kenneth Williams‘ bright guitar lines soak the track in sunshine, and allow space for the cathartic melody to reach its transcendent heights. The wealth of guitar tones on the album should not go understated, for a band often associated with the barebones style of nineties heavyweights like Sleater-Kinney, ‘Paradise’ has a shiny newness that suggests that the group refuse to remain stagnant.
Early single, ‘Hungry’, is an emotive cut than sheds any shades of darkness in favour of anthemia. The thematic backing of depravity and starvation remains present, but the sweet, harmonised vocals on the chorus feel hopeful, and soak up any of the melancholy around them. On the flipside, ‘Vegas’ is a mini-epic that feels suitably foreboding with its rumbling thrash-guitars and its celestial production. The balancing of sounds and ideas has made for a well-rounded album.
Occasionally, the album feels too dramatic for its own good, its relentlessly high emotional stakes becoming exhausting rather than rewarding at some points. This isn’t helped by moments such as the climax of ‘Below’, which feel sanitised to the point that they leave the listener cold. Not just this, but it’s easy to feel like there’s little original taking place.
While White Lung are hardly changing punk – nor are they trying to – the weight of these songs make ‘Paradise’ feel as if it’s the most important album ever made when blasting out of the speakers. The beating heart of this record hits far more times than it misses, and as soon as the record is switched on, it’s near impossible to be a cynic.
At a short, sharp 28 minutes, ‘Paradise’ feels frantic and dizzying, jumping from one peak of emotion to the next. The full sound the band are working with gives the record more substance than the runtime suggests, while the giddy approach to songwriting makes it a record that’s wonderfully easy sink your teeth back into. The technical prowess of ‘Paradise’ can’t be understated when discussing a band who are at times unfairly given basic descriptors like ‘primeval’ or ‘raw’ to quantify their nuanced musicianship. There’s an evolution here that suggests that White Lung have a lot of hunger inside them yet.
‘Paradise’ is out on May 6th via domino records.
This White Lung Article was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor.