Saturday, June 22, 2013
White Orange's Onawa EP
Remember the photo at the very bottom? That was the crazy, beautiful vinyl LP I received from the Portland band White Orange about two-and-a-half years ago--I reviewed it here. I just received the band's new EP titled Onawa--which features just three songs but still clocks in at 25 minutes long--but unfortunately it's just a CD. Kaytea, the band's publicist, did tell me that it will be available on vinyl. Maybe I read it wrong, but I think she said it will be available only on vinyl, which makes me wonder why I now have a CD of it. Nevertheless, the LP will come out on my birthday, August 6, so happy birthday to me--if I get a big, flat cardboard package sent to me, that is.
When I reviewed that last LP back in 2011, I didn't really know who White Orange was. They were one of those bands that surrounded themselves with mystery, and I remember having a tough time writing the review because there simply wasn't very much information on them online. I definitely sensed a "we're a band who wants the music to speak for us" vibe, so I left it alone. Afterward, I heard from a lot of people who told me they were HUGE fans of White Orange, and that I really needed to see them live to "get it." I never did see them, but I have noticed that the ranks of White Orange fans have grown considerably over the last couple of years. Part of that is because singer Dustin Hill and drummer Dean Carroll also play for Black Pussy, another Portland band that has been reviewed in this blog. (For the record, Ryan McIntyre and Adam Pike handle guitars and bass, respectively.) Both bands seem to be developing parallel yet symbiotic followings.
Overall, the two bands both embrace hard rock, psychedelia, a '70s feel and healthy appetite for weed (look at all those lovely potted plants in the profile pic on White Orange's Facebook page). The difference is that Black Pussy has an almost punk sound straight from the late '70s, lean and aggressive and basic and fast, while White Orange is a big, turgid maelstrom of fist-pumping power. It's a matter of tempo, perhaps, but Black Pussy has more of an immediate appeal, while White Orange requires that you be consumed with the enormous, million-gallon tank of sound--you'll have it all sorted out by the time you float to the top.
In other words, the three songs on Onawa are dense yet simple, basic riffs, a minimal melody that's differentiated more by licks than scales. It is a wall of sound at first, but repeated listenings do pay off. You'll be tested on the final track of three, the epic eleven-minute plus "...and I Leave the Circus," where you'll wonder just how long the band can repeat that riff, and how ballsy it is to do so, but then you'll noticed the slowly evolving textures and realize something much deeper is going on.
I've said this before, but this is heavy and somewhat primitive stuff, but primitive in an extremely clever way. I know that White Orange isn't being especially subtle about the fact that they're making stoner music in 2013--good old fashioned stoner music, that is--but there's something valiant in that. I'm watching so many people I know freak out under the stress of our crazy world--terrorist bombings, political divisiveness, mass killings--and so maybe we're repeating the '60s and tearing everything to pieces before we grab a few roles of duct tape. White Orange seems to be saying c'mon everybody, let's just skip ahead to 1972 or so and kick back and chill out for a while. It's gonna be okay.