White Whale is as straightforward as they come. Or perhaps not. The band's debut, WWI, is the proggiest thing to come out of Kansas since, I suppose, Kansas, but it's balanced by a bracing intellectualism. It's a slightly confusing listen, but the result isn't necessarily confused.
WWI's inception stems from various and sundry musical children of Lawrence -- amongst them Butterglory's Matt Suggs and the Get Up Kids' Robert Pope -- all at a veritable crossroads in their performing careers. Given their Great Plains locale, it's only natural that they write and record a group of seafaring shanties and call themselves White Whale. (Side note: At what point did nautical lore become all the rage for post-grad rockers? I can understand the proliferation of rocket ships and cosmic allusions that cropped up with artists of the '60s and '70s as the globe was transfixed with the era-defining race into space between America and the Soviet Union, but when was the last time a schooner voyage crept into the public consciousness? Call me confused.)
If the framework seems disingenuous, White Whale can be forgiven on the strength of its music, an accomplishment portended by the years all involved have spent honing their craft in the shadow of KU. Suggs, whose solo albums have also met some acclaim, proves an appropriate frontman, his sinewy lisp is at once decadent and plaintive (think Malkmus as a dandy). His bandmates strain mightily to keep the sound unpredictable, and the effort provides some fine tension and texture to even the simplest songs, such as the bright, biting jig-core (?) "We're Just Temporary, Ma'am."
Suggs's writing style here is predisposed to the grandiose, with several tracks building from humble origins into sprawling epics. Is this a sincere brand of storytelling or a grand scale posture? It doesn't matter -- WWI is a solid first work, to say the least. What the band has to say next will determine if White Whale is really worth listening to after all.
Label: http://www.mergerecords.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/whitewhalemusic