Getting a wee bit trippy with this one.
Whyte Horses, Pop Or Not
The Gateway Drug
“Peach Tree Street,” a lightly grooving, syncopated daydream, maybe about a street, but probably not. I don’t know.
Actually, I do know – because, courtesy of a later mix recorded by a children’s choir, I now know the lyrics – and, whoa, that’s one damn bleak little ditty. It’s about a (possibly) dead actress and how nothing good happens on that particular block (“there is no peach, there is no tree, on Peach Tree Street), which only makes me like the music more. It’s airy stuff, and when the lighter guitar strains ever higher through the bridge, it feels like the narrator (who, even in the original, I picture as a kid) tries harder and harder to float away and forget Peach Tree Street.
I suppose none of the above belongs in the “backstory” for this track, per se, because I only found that over this past week. And I’ve had “Peach Tree Street” on a Top 40 of 2016 since October of that year (NOTE: Top 40 included only the last quarter of 2016; just for perspective). When I create those Top 40s (still doing it, but with no idea how to contain it), I’m usually paring down from three months’ worth of music, and with 40-60 songs for each month – and some of those pulled from Bin Projects listens (see the list of volumes on the right sidebar), e.g., songs by artists I’m pretty high on from the get-to. “Peach Tree Street” survived multiple cuts, so something about the song spoke to me – and even before I knew the lyrics.
I live in this utterly pointless fear that, one day, I’ll have to just totally shit on an album, that, the one song that brought me to it aside, I’ll hate every last word of every song, and even fractions of every note, even though the band didn’t play those fractions. This site barely has an audience, but, y’know, the internet, and what if feelings get hurt? I want creators to create, and I’m willing to tolerate promising failure…just not hackery. Or naked commercialism. Boundaries, people…
Even if Pop Or Not never even spied that threshold from a distance – they play in a style/genre I’m not hearing all over the place, so commercialism’s out - the first couple listens left me indifferent. Whether it took getting used to the songs, or just the right mood, I came around to a healthy portion of the songs on the album – and, assuming I get there, this could wind up being one of those…things, that skips over infatuation and ends with, oh, a solid five years of marriage. I mean solid. After that, who knows? Right?
The genre/style that Whyte Horses plays in (or near) made for the first hurdle. Someone, somewhere (of which, not an easy thing to do, because this bunch has a small footprint), classified them as psychedelic rock. I can’t check off a bunch of artists/acts in my collection in re whom I’d immediately bark “psychedelic rock!”, so I guess, for reference, we’re talking acts like Frank Zappa(?), Strawberry Alarm Clock (eh?), maybe a couple Jefferson Airplane tracks (right?), Brian Wilson’s weirder shit for/outside/against The Beach Boys? I don’t know. The point here is to highlight a lack of clear reference. Being the oldest step-son of the Internet era, though, I googled that shit (“psychedelic rock”) and, honestly, I came up with sound references up there. Some acts that came to mind – e.g., The Birds, some Jimi Hendrix (“May This Be Love”) (and Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction”? (No, better.) Really? And no Zappa?), but all I really wanted to do there was establish some small foundation of faith that I know what I’m talking about. And, no, “psychedelic” doesn’t fit so well (again, “Psychotic Reaction” feels closer to garage).
Whyte Horses wears a whiff of an art-house/continental vibes about them. It’s not that they don’t dabble in psychedelic tropes – listening to “She Owns The World” right now and, yep, that has ‘em – but I’d put the album’s sonic genre/musical mid-point on a song like “Elusive Mr Jimmy.” If you listen to that and hear psychedelic, well…yeah, that’s fine. I don’t think any of us get prizes for this shit or anything.
The band just grew on me as the week progressed, and I think that’s down to their range and the way it’s hard to pin them down musically. It’s a busy listen, and that’s the kind of thing I like. For all that, I can’t imagine anyone but the most super-humanly patient and open can like every song on Pop Or Not. Even after a dozen listens, some songs won’t work for me – “Pop Or Not” and “The Other Half of the Sky” are personal stand-outs – and there’s enough spread on the other stuff that I can see Pop Or Not turning off a meaningful cross-section of the populace.
Before you walk away, Whyte Horses somehow conned something called the St. Bart’s Choir into recording versions of all the songs on Pop Or Not. The result might not always surpass the original, but it’s still fucking cute and accidentally sincere (because, guileless; song's called "Snowfalls"). More to the point, those versions do Whyte Horses’ songs a service by stripping them of the various effects. It took all of one listen to…let’s call it the St. Bart’s Demo to goose a little more appreciation into the next sit-down(s) with the studio album. (The versions of “Elusive Mr Jimmy” and “She Owns the World” show just how smartly these songs clean up.)
That doesn’t take away from the lightly-removed ache in Julie Margat’s studio delivery. They both come from different places (and Margat’s delivery makes more sense; I need a little “squish,” so the choir), but part of the appeal of Whyte Horses’ music comes with whatever makes it so flexible tonally. Or maybe I just like that they reminded me of how much range any given set of notes and lyrics can really have. Why not a psychedelic “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? (I mean besides how easy it would be to slip into kitsch! How to do it well?!)
Maybe that’s too much time dissecting the wrong things, I don’t know. Maybe I should just list songs on these things and say “good” or “bad.” At any rate, this is a good album. Moreover, some of its best tracks roll in a totally different direction from the songs listed above – e.g., to name several favorites, “Astrologie Siderale,” “When I Was a Scout,” “La Couleur Orignelle,” and “Promise I Do” (again, psychedelic; totally does happen). And, if you listen to them, you’ll hear the some tonal center – astral, cool (as relates to temperature, not taste), and somehow still bright – but...going with a clearly different set styles and tempos.
On the way to nailing down some frames in the above, I read a couple posts on Whyte Horses. They’re interesting enough, so there’s more to learn for those willing to read a little more. All in all, my goal here isn’t to judge what people are doing, so much as describe it and give it some context (i.e., name-dropping acts/artists and songs), so anyone reading it can walk away with some interest or otherwise about giving that band a try. Sure, whether I liked it or not comes in. That’s also the least important thing I’m doing here.
At any rate, and again, Whyte Horses do good work. If you like psychedelic rock, and acts like, say, April March, Air, maybe a taste of Velvet Underground and, here’s a weird one, Beach House (now that I think of it, Whyte Horses could really be Beach House mixed with 2-3 more artists a couple steps faster than Beach House).