Sunday, January 25, 2009

Album review: White Lies - To Lose My Life (4/5)

London-based White Lies is one of the first new acts of 2009 with a credible amount of buzz. Their debut album, To Lose My Life, is set to top the UK albums chart this weekend, despite their first single of the same name failing to become a major hit and somewhat lukewarm reviews. Perhaps critics are beginning to tire of all the new-wave indie rock bands--there certainly have been many lately. And while I may be looking for something new as well, I'm still willing to indulge a good jam session with a guitar and a keyboard.

"Death" is a pleasing opening track that transitions through electric guitar, synth and piano sections over a chugging guitar rhythm. "To Lose My Life" is even better--a pulsing new wave guitar and synths rhythm with a dark underpinning. The most obvious comparisons musically are The Killers or The Editors, but thematically White Lies takes a more goth approach, pondering mortality at every turn ("Let's grow old together and die at the same thing" is the wish expressed in the title track).

"A Place to Hide" is similar, with a bit of Arcade Fire flavor, dissolving into a distant rumble of guitar feedback at the end. "Fifty on Our Foreheads" shows more restraint, opening with bass guitar against a synth background. It's a good showcase for frontman singer-guitarist Harry McVeigh's vocals; he's got a pleasingly deep voice, but can also hit those high notes when needed. He's one-third of the band, which also includes Charles Cave on bass and Jack Lawrence-Brown on drums.

"Unfinished Business" has a good dramatic sweep to it, opening with organ and building with the guitars and drum flourishes later. It tells the story of a man about to die who pleads for more time with his girl so they can "dance" and "kiss like (they) used to." "E.S.T" also has a big, dark sound. They skirt close to Depeche Mode territory, but never seem to cross over, their light synths keeping the gloom in check just enough to stay upbeat. This could be a good thing or a failing, depending on whether you think the upbeat new wave sound is fitting or if it inhibits their music from matching the darkness of their lyrics.

"From the Stars" is a slower track, and I thought it unimpressive until the stringed middle section, which is a cool touch. "Farewell to the Fairground" kicks the tempo back up with bursts of electric guitar during the chorus constrasting with the dreamier synth-backed verses. Here they sound a bit like The Cars, with McVeigh intoning "keep on running, there's no place like home."

"Nothing to Give" shuts off the drums and turns up the synths as McVeigh goes for the album's most emotional moment. It's a grand gesture some may find grandiose, but I actually don't mind it. I particularly like the second verse through the chorus, which has mysterious synth chords and a nice musical build through the chorus. It's probably the best of the album's latter tracks, which aren't bad, but not quite as good as the first half. Final track "The Price of Love" starts with a dark Western sound before picking up the guitar tempo after the first chorus and later mixing in the strings for an earnest big finish.

To Lose My Life isn't a knockout, but it is a worthy first effort. Another decent '80s-loving new wave indie set.

Best: To Lose My Life, Death, Unfinished Business, Nothing to Give, The Price of Love


Paul said...

i've been on the fence about this album, but your review has pushed me into the "hmmm will probably give it a go then" category :) I'll let you know what i think!

ww_adh said...

I was on the fence between giving it a 3.5 and a 4 (a 4 being my threshhold for considering it something I would recommend). It was the last 2 tracks that pushed it over. I'll be curious to hear your take.