TigerBeat's new secret weapon, White Williams, receives an outstanding 8.3 review on Pitchfork today.
Smoke [Tigerbeat6; 2007]
Rating: 8.3 Online review
Getting the full picture of Joe Williams' debut LP Smoke means making your way past the horrifically gaudy cover image to the production credits inside. There, after Williams' own writer/composer/engineer listing, is the name of the cover model, followed by credits for hair, makeup, "hookah prop design," and of course, "art." Williams, it is made clear, rolls as thick as the exhalant that gives his debut its name.
That aesthetic emphasis has landed Williams an opening gig for the recent electro-populist double-bill of Girl Talk and Dan Deacon. But while his tourmates get sweaty with the crowd as they tap away at their electronics, Williams keeps a cool distance. His songs are thin and languorous, with impeccable influences and the sort of calculated disaffection that comes from an MFA in design and a good weed connection. His attitude and vocal timbre have earned him comparisons to Beck, and that's more than fair: As glassy, nonchalant dance music, Smoke could be Midnite Vultures Redux: Something for the Blunted.
Mostly, though, Williams is a groove-obssesser working through his influences, and doing it with enough restraint and creativity to work them into his songs, leaving the showiness to his cover models. Smoke’s signposts form a coherent musical worldview: "In the Club" is T. Rex's "The Motivator" at 16 rpm, "Going Down" and "Route to Palm" work in the 70s West African guitar colorations that Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend, and Islands have been exploring lately, "New Violence" hurtles forward with a motorik bassline, and opener "Headlines" plays like a bubblegum version of Brian Eno's "Baby's on Fire". Even the umpteenth barely-augmented cover of "I Want Candy" feels like a distillation of the record's love for veneers.
Smoke's fondness of surfaces doesn't stop at the level of rhythmic appropriation, though; Williams takes an observational approach to lyricism that recalls early Roxy Music's tongue-in-cheek take on the glamourous life. In "Headlines", he crafts a series of slow motion scenester dioramas like "Climb all you can/ It's a killer stake/ We'll hang from the branches/ While the mayor dances/ In the headlines." "In the Club" tightens its focus, observing, "Trashy dancing baby got inside for free/ She's got the basement wrist/ She do the snow-blow twist." Like his predecessors, Williams doesn't distinguish much between style and peril; the middle of Smoke features "New Violence", "Going Down", and "Danger", which view impending menace as a necessity for sophistication.
Williams' ostensible depthlessness, like that of his forebears, is itself only a façade, and Smoke offers plenty to discover across repeated listens-- particularly the way in which he tweaks his own voice, melting and reshaping it like the models' Technicolor "tears" on the album cover. This tendency toward sonic self-mutilation underscores the most appealing aspect of Williams' persona: that underneath the mannerisms is a shy kid, too timid to force his will on his audience in the manner of his tour mates, content to watch and comment from the margins. Appropriately, then, a streak of dark nostalgia murmurs just beneath the glitzy exterior of "The Shadow". Williams remembers "driving toward collisions in our heads," "burning buildings and the rivals that we had," and "wailing widows and the moments that we bled," and in the process giving some context to that hard-to-forget cover image: fashionable high culture as a sad, grotesque fantasy.
-Eric Harvey, November 01, 2007
A Few White Williams live dates opening for Battles.
11/07 Minneapolis, MN. @ Fine Line Music Cafe
11/09 Ann Arbor, MI. @ The Blind Pig
11/10 Toronto, ON. @ Lee's Palace
11/11 Montreal, QC. @ Le National
11/12 Boston, MA. @ Paradise