White Whale | WW1 (Merge)

White Whale’s strength lies in its ability to craft haunting and powerful rock music.


If you’ve never read the massively massive Moby Dick, you need not worry. All you need to do is listen to White Whale’s epic debut album WW1. I’ll admit that, like most non-English teaching Americans, I haven’t read it, either, but I imagine that it is very similar to this album. This group from Lawrence, Kan., has crafted an album of musical and sonic bliss that is at the same wistful, powerful, immediate, distant, and incredibly emotional, yet at times slightly confusing.

It seemed odd to me that a group of guys from a landlocked state would develop such a strange obsession with the ocean. After listening to this album for weeks though, I am even more shocked to find this band has so perfectly put all of the emotions that accompany being in the vast presence of the ocean onto one compact disc.

Despite all of my talk about the ocean and White Whale’s lofty influences, what makes this album so great is the music. From the opening drumstick clicks of“Nine Good Fingers” to the final notes on “One Prayer,” the music is majestic and compelling. The album’s highlight is the wonderful “What’s an Ocean For?” It begins with a light tapping drum and a serene acoustic guitar before a frenetic and chilling guitar riff enters and dramatically changes the scene. The slow verses create a level of tension that is released in the grandiose chorus with the question, “What’s an ocean for, but to carry a ship ashore?”

The album does not slow down from here, though. This song is immediately followed by the guitar-driven “We’re Just Temporary Ma’am.” Perhaps the most focused rock song on the disc, “We’re Just Temporary Ma’am” is full of emotion with a damn catchy chorus. Placed near the end of the album,“Yummyman Farewell” is another impressive song. Starting out with random background noise and a single distant voice, the song explodes into a wonderful rock number with a foot-tapping guitar line.

At times, though, as in all great works of art, this album is mildly confusing. For example, the seven-minute-plus “O’William O’Sarah” could have been its best offering. With its ominous guitar lines and creepy piano, the song has a feeling of darkness and being lost at sea. It even gets better with a rocking chorus, but later slides into oblivion with over three minutes of pure noise. White Whale’s strength lies in its ability to craft haunting and powerful rock music, and diversions like this merely take away from an otherwise wonderful song.

Taking your name from one of the most revered classics in the English language may seem like a daunting task for a new band. However, White Whale lives up to the name. If Herman Melville were still around today, I think he would be happy.

RIYL: The National, Arcade Fire, Band of Horses

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