Dark, Direct, Smart Retro Rock from Whitehorse

by delarue

Whitehorse is Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. Together they make eclectic, dark garage rock which might seem like a contradiction in terms until you consider what an excellent, diverse guitarist Doucet is. Which makes it no surprise that there are numerous other genres on their album. It opens with a meandering spoken-word number set to a Marc Ribot-style noir guitar interlude that goes spiraling with a flamenco feel. Those are just two styles in Doucet’s arsenal, and they don’t return until a reprise at the end. In between there’s a lot of bluesiness, a ton of reverb and lots of vocal harmonies. Both Doucet and McClelland are strong singers, harmonizing much like the Snow’s Pierre de Gaillande and Hilary Downes.

With its simple stomping beat and lo-fi vibe, Killing Time Is Murder could be the White Stripes with brains. Emerald Isle could do without the stream-of-consciousness lyrical torrents, but the noir rockabilly tune is cool, not just because it has a glockenspiel. Passenger 24 goes back to punk-blues stomp that distantly evokes the Cramps, McClelland’s passenger high on coke alongside a “hopped-up driver chasing the moon.”

If commercial played good songs, Broken would be a monster hit (is there a college radio station where you are? Are they playing this track to death? They should be). It’s a wickedly catchy country tune disguised as backbeat rock, with a vicious duet that does justice to a Blood on the Tracks reference. “You’ve got to have a heart to have a broken one,” Doucet snarls, “I need a girl like you like a hole in the head.” The album winds up with a torchy, oldtime-flavored swing duet, McClelland’s lurid vocals backed by noir atmospherics from the organ and steel guitar. The only miss here is a pointless cover of Springsteen’s easy-listening hit I’m On Fire, which isn’t as annoying as the original but it’s pretty close. With originals as good as the rest of the tracks here, who needs covers?

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