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(51 min, The Laser's Edge)
TRACK LIST: 1. Night Surf 4:12 2. Splinters 8:36 3. Ghosts 5:49 4. Joyride 4:19 5. The Lingering 9:25 6. The Dark Road 4:17 7. Chrome Dawn 7:13 8. Dusk City 6:06 9. Ararat 1:35 LINEUP: Jacob Holm-Lupo - el. & ac. guitars, el. sitar Lars Fredrik Froislie - keyboards Trude Eidtang - vocals Marthe Berger Walthinsen - basses Aage Moltke Schou - drums Ketil Einarsen - woodwinds
Prolusion. One of the most widely known and popular Norwegian Progressive Rock acts, WHITE WILLOW, present their fifth studio recording, "Signal to Noise". I see that the original singer Sylvia Erichsen is no longer part of the group.
Analysis. Unlike that of the band's founder and its principal songwriter guitarist Jacob Holm-Lupo, the role that the other two veterans (drummer Aage Moltke Schou and woodwind player Ketil Einarsen) play on the new White Willow album is for the most part supportive. Most of the key posts in the performance department are divided between Jacob, keyboardist Lars Fredrik Froislie and the new singer Trude Eidtang, though the efforts of bassist Marthe Berger Walthinsen are also notable. Lars's keyboard equipment is large and is really awesome, consisting almost exclusively of famous vintage models, namely the Hammond/Leslie combo, Mellotron, Mini-Moog, Clavinet, a couple of ARP string-ensembles, several various electric pianos plus grand piano. However, on one of the nine tracks their actual applicability was, say, doomed to failure from the start. The really aptly titled Joyride sounds like anything else but White Willow - partly due to the newcomer's singing, which doesn't arouse any associations with that of Sylvia, though above all due to the piece's overall construction. This is rhythmic straightforward pop Rock with some Funk intonations whose emotional constituent seems to be excessively joyous compared to what we normally expect from the band in this field. That's how things are. Contrary to the previously cited example, the title of The Dark Road has nothing to do with this song's actual mood. This is a ballad where there are no even lightly-dramatic shades, let alone those darker. Musically however, The Dark Road is more interesting than Joyride, as it is not completely devoid of tempo changes and features some nice organ work, although its most memorable parts include the acoustic guitar passages that run all through it and Trude's singing, which is almost as expressive here as, well, almost everywhere on the CD. As you can see above, these two are located right in the middle of the track list, while the album would have certainly appeared much more integral and coherent had Joyride opened, and The Dark Road concluded it. While differing from each other in various characteristics, none of the other tracks has an overt pop feeling. The short last piece, Ararat, is titled after the mountain on the border between Armenia and Turkey - the supposed last haven of Noah's ark. There are only reflective electric guitar solos, but they are interesting enough to remain in my memory. The second number, Splinters, is also a memorable song, very beautiful and tasty. I just regret it's somewhat overextended, as its duration (8:36) is too long compared to its progressive substance. There is a rather lengthy instrumental section and many agreeable moments in general, but not even a hint of unexpected turns or any twists either, and while a fan of the band's classic sound is forever waiting for something to change, nothing significant actually happens, all the arrangements remaining predictable throughout. If the aforesaid Joyride were used as an opening number, this song would have looked like a logical first step in the gradual complication of the music, while in reality it's more accessible than the actual first track, although being twice as long. That's how things are. The other five compositions (running about 35 minutes, which is quite enough for a full-length LP) are compelling, most being filled with that kind of mystical aura which can be found only in Scandinavian Progressive. Night Surf is highly intriguing without being complicated, reminding me somewhat of Landberk with a female vocalist. The remaining two instrumentals, Ghosts and Chrome Dawn, are both remarkable examples of a modern approach to vintage Progressive, still possessing most of the genre's traditional virtues. The former stands out for some unusual harmonic constructions, the fuzzed bass bringing to mind Anekdoten and, thus, King Crimson as well. The latter begins and evolves as keyboard-laden symphonic Art-Rock at times bordering on quasi Jazz-Fusion, the mini-Moog solos having a certain common ground with those by Manfred Mann. Later on, the guitar takes over the leadership, leaning towards the sound of Camel. However the most progressive tracks, The Lingering and Dusk City, both are fully-fledged songs even though the former can in many ways be regarded as largely instrumental, the music constantly changing, full of energy and complex rhythmic structures. The ensemble work here is the most interesting, paying attention to the various things that are going on. Although vocal-based, Dusk City frequently twists and turns too, featuring plenty of interplays between the instruments. Trude just works wonders with her voice here, approaching the best of the most complex vocal gymnastics that Kate Bush has always been famed for.
Conclusion. On "Signal to Noise" is distinctly mirrored White Willow's desire to widen their audience, and I am sure they will succeed in that. All in all, this is a highly-professional and well-produced recording, surpassing many contemporary creations of intricate Prog Rock. That's how things are.
VM: October 2, 2006
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