Crate-Digging: Tonstartssbandht – Dick Nights

Third review of the same band? I must like these guys.

(Does Are, 2009)

You’re no doubt familiar with my work. Yes, I’ve fawned over the brothers White before, as Andy and Edwin, the Orlando-to-New York-and Montreal transplants, consistently thrill me with their unusual brand of vocal psych pop. That’s right, vocal psych pop, in which the densely layered melodies of the human voice command the most attention, are pushed to the forefront, and are often the only element of the song. Dick Nights – an album title that never ceases to amuse the giggling junior-high moron within – is full length number two for the boys, and follows the fuzzy experimental highs of debut An When, and precedes Parson Sound/Harvester/International Harvester covers cassette, ahem, Parson Sounds, each of which I’ve covered here on this very site.

Don’t worry, I’ll stick around until you read them.

All set? Good.

Dick Nights furthers the mayhem of An When and shakes things up a bit with some surprising turns. Whereas An When featured some kick-ass band performances (“Black Country,” “Midnite Cobra,” “Walken with Jesus”), the White brothers, from the start, showcase their obvious growth as arrangers with the round-esque echoey tomfoolery of “Turkey Bones,” and follow it with the quirk-wop nu-classic “Sarajevo Preadub,” a Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective dead ringer if there ever was one. The similarities to the Baltimore weirdo legends doesn’t stop there, as “Konig” and “ High Roller” have real “Who Could Win a Rabbit?” aspirations – they might actually be “Who Could Win a Rabbit?” if you somehow combined them in a type of quantum entanglement, and then played the tape backward at a slightly different speed. You can’t increase the playback too much – Animal Collective is already pretty manic, and you’d probably bypass the comparison in an interstellar anomaly if you messed around with it too much.

Where was I?

There are a couple moments on Dick Nights where my jaw dropped. I couldn’t say that with An When – one, probably because I was picking my way through that album pretty carefully, and two, I don’t think the songs there really reached jawdropping heights. (Although that “Black Country”/”Little April Showers” one-two is pretty impressive, and highly relistenable.) “Preston ‘Great-Ass’ Imfat” sounds like nothing the brothers had done to this point, and the combination of left-field format and stellar composition had me scrambling for the repeat button. The harmonies are there to be sure, as is the rambunctious playfulness the brothers frequently display, but the song takes on a honky-tonk, foot-stomping singalong, with Andy on piano and Edwin on shuffly drums. The three-part tune is steeped in a Beatle-esque vibe, perhaps fitting in nicely on the third side of the White Album, or at least it resembles something fuzzily tossed off by an E6 mainstay, like, say, The Olivia Tremor Control, especially the acoustic train-hopping midpoint. It ends with another awesome doo-wop harmony. I want to listen to it right now, actually – good thing I’ve got the album embedded right here.

While “Tahiti Nui” comes close to jaw-dropping, it’s notable mostly for how different it sounds from the rest of the album, and for its authentic Polynesian vibe (and pronunciations). It’s an excellent song, but “Seriously” does it for me. Seriously. It’s vocal experimentalism at its best, with hooks poppy enough to stand on its own without any other instruments (even though there’s some spare percussion involved). It contradicts its central, repeated message of “Seriously no matter what you say you’re always gonna get me down” in that it samples and layers vocals (again!) in joyous excitement that never sits still and never brakes for regret. Andy and Edwin really, really, really have the vocal thing down. Brian Wilson would be proud, were he still among us. (Wait, he’s not dead? Uh … my bad.)

Dick Nights isn’t without its flaws, but the highs and sheer curiosity of the record completely overcome them. “Haughty Deb” reaches for the full-band fuzzbombs of An When, but ends up a murky mess – mixing that one wasn’t high on the list of the Whites’ priorities, but I betcha it sounds great live. Ditto for “High Roller.” The album also continues the tradition of ending on wordless meditation, but it’s tough to come down from such fiery heights with not one, but two of these tracks. And right after “Seriously”! I know, right? But don’t let any of this deter you from checking out the band – I swear, the Whites are really freaking weird, and so interesting to keep an eye on. In fact, you’d be foolish to avert your gaze for a second. So don’t.

RIYL: Animal Collective, The Olivia Tremor Control, Eola



One response to “Crate-Digging: Tonstartssbandht – Dick Nights

  1. Pingback: Critical Masses All-Time Crate-Digging Top 50, part 3: 30-21 |·

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