Two pieces of information I want to pass along right off: (1) The Whitest Boy Alive is basically Kings of Convenience singer Erlend Øye on guitar and vocals with a pretty damn tight backing band (Marcin Oz on bass, Sebastian Maschat on drums and Daniel Nentwig on “rhodes and crumar” — I have no idea either); and (2) the band members claim that it “started out as an electronic dance music project in 2003 . . . [but] has slowly developed into a band without any programmed elements.”
Dreams, then, is the result of kind of a progression for Øye: Kings of Convenience is a perfectly nice and well-meaning and very pretty-sounding bedsit outfit in the Nick Drake/Belle & Sebastian mold, but Øye’s spent the past few years experimenting pretty relentlessly, his efforts taking him into the realm of electronica (he gained some renown as the quote unquote Singing DJ, for example) and synth-pop (his 2003 solo album Unrest). A triumphant hybrid of the three projects was probably inevitable.
The Whitest Boy Alive’s sound is so cool, so clean, so — and I’ll apologize for this in advance — white (think Boys Don’t Cry by the Cure and as performed by robots or humans heavily medicated on Xanax) that you kind of assume at first blush that it must have been programmed. But then rhythm slips for a second or you sit down and think about it and realize the components are obviously just guitar, drums, bass (as for “rhodes and crumar” the jury is still; it’s probably keyboards, because it’s not like there’s anything too weird going on here sound-wise).
Exactly how much of an accomplishment it is to play with human hands music that could easily be mistaken for the sounds of a computer I can’t say, but some kind of credit is due because the playing here is exceptionally, impressively, freakishly tight in a sort of almost Neu/pre-Autobahn Kraftwerk kind of way. That several of the songs here fail to fully emerge from the motorik sway here is totally unsurprising and maybe intentional; the rhythm is half the point. If you don’t mind a little melody with your beat, look no further than the detached white-boy funk of “Golden Cage” to the detached, verging-on-despondent but quite propulsive “Done with You,” and “Inflation” and “Burning,” both first-rate interpretations of the vastly underrated pre-goth Cure. The lyrics are mostly bitter, but in the frigid, resigned way you’d expect — and maybe even hope for, bitterness being, like revenge and some forms of funk, best served cold — from a Norwegian group performing under the name the Whitest Boy Alive. Dreams is a clever, smart, deceptively understated album.