In the silence that follows the finish of “Rudie Fails”, the second track on White Rabbits’ sophomore LP, It’s Frightening, one Rabbit says, “Rhythm doesn’t sound right…”. Rhythm, especially percussion, is the focus of Frightening, but it sounds very right. The Brooklyn-based band (all originally from University of Missouri at Columbia) turned a lot of heads in 2007 with their debut full-length, Fort Nightly (QRO review), an indie take on the dancehalls and saloons of the Old West. But instead of resting on their laurels, White Rabbits boldly left behind much of the poppy flavor that made up the best moments of Nightly, to embrace a percussive spookiness that isn’t as immediately accessible, but deeper & longer-lasting.
Fort Nightly earned White Rabbits comparisons to fellow Brooklynites The Walkmen (QRO live review), and they accompanied The Walkmen on their tour with Austin’s Spoon (QRO live review). From that, they managed to enlist Spoon singer/guitarist Britt Daniel to produce their follow-up (the reason Daniel was spotted at many Brooklyn shows over last winter – QRO live review). Yet, if anything, Rabbits sound less like the indie-rock catch of Spoon on It’s Frightening, thanks to the percussion taking the lead over piano & guitars.
Nowhere is that more the case than with opener & single “Percussion Gun”, which sees drummer Matt Clark and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Levinson duel it out on standing bass drums, hooking into compelling, evocative vocals from singer/pianist Steve Patterson (QRO interview with Patterson & guitarist Alex Evans). Virtually every member of White Rabbits plays something that someone else in the band also plays (except for bassist Adam Russell – who’s curiously since been replaced by Brian Betancourt, of Frances – QRO photos – and Hospitality – QRO photos), including drums, so there was ample room for the six-person act to grow in percussion. But this much comes as something of a shock, a scare, at first. Even when the harmonies and melodies are amped up, like with “They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong” or “Midnight and I”, it is still the rhythm that drives It’s Frightening.
And that drive is often through a scary place. While Fort Nightly was a march out into the Old West/Southwest, It’s Frightening is more spooky and gothic. The pressing rhythm of “Lionesse”, “The Salesman (Tramp Life)”, or “Right Where They Left” is haunting and gripping, with “The Salesman” in particular putting it all together. There is still a bit of the Nightly dancehall on Frightening, such as with “Rudie Fails” or “The Lady Vanishes”, but it’s derived from the darker side of the Fort. And White Rabbits end it all with “Leave It At the Door”, a stripped, slow, piano-man coda to the record’s sad shiver.
Fort Nightly grabbed a lot of people quickly with its saloon dance (especially live – QRO live review), and many of those fans might be initially put off by the turn White Rabbits have made to their march. But after a few more spins, It’s Frightening’s rhythm and percussion beats down the door and stays ringing in your ear.
MP3 Stream: "The Salesman (Tramp Life)"