Review: White Lung – Deep Fantasy

white-lung-deep-fantasyVancouver, British Columbian punk rock band White Lung is what I can only hope to be the forerunners of a 21st century riot grrrl revival. The band seems to fit the mould down to a tee – they’re from the Pacific Northwest, are female-fronted, has intentions to completely shatter the unfortunate gender boundaries when it comes to punk rock, and, to boot, are a colossally badass rock group.

Ever since dropping their second LP Sorry in 2012, the band has justly been getting a fair bit of recognition from music zines/publications and fellow musicians as being a bracing and wholly important band to have in today’s rock scene that yearns to entertain as much as it does to provoke thought and sense in the average rock listener. This ambition and mentality carries over heavily onto their June 2014 effort Deep Fantasy, which is one of the most pummeling and consciously blunt rock albums you’ll hear all year.

From a purely musical standpoint, the band’s sound is somewhere between a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack circa 2000 and the debut self-titled from L7. The guitars on this album are loud and layered, the snares on this album are pounding, and frontwoman Mish Way’s vocal delivery is powerful and emotive; generally not so much singing as she is shouting directly at you. Deep Fantasy reminds me a lot of Iceage’s You’re Nothing in its biting and white-hot postmodern punk rock.

Compared to Sorry, Deep Fantasy doesn’t reinvent White Lung’s sound by any means, though the latter is differentiated in a few ways. The production on Deep Fantasy is comparatively less clean and noisier, which serves to give the album a rawer flair. Whereas Sorry put most of its emphasis on the guitar playing of Kenneth William, this album is more fixated on Way’s vocals and what she’s saying. While these changes may not make the album a complete 180 on White Lung’s sound, they make listening to Deep Fantasy feel more refined than its predecessor.

For all of the talk from many including myself of White Lung being a revolutionary and important rock band, their lyrics aren’t as daring and blunt as you would expect them to be. If anything, the band’s lyrical style is reminiscent of MC Ride of Death Grips (The Money Store-era specifically) in their use of abstract and provocative imagery and highly-interpretive vagueness. Any lyrics that try to abet emotion in the listener are conveyed by means of free associative and enigmatic lines that, on a surface level, mean absolutely nothing. The track “Down It Goes” is a good example of the deliberately confusing lyrics on display throughout the album, being incredibly vague, but still occasionally emanating random spots of blunt messages here and there.

Due to this consistent choice in lyricism, White Lung’s lyrics are really only as meaningful as you make them out to be, and Way’s rapid-fire vocals make them easily ignorable if you’re just looking for a punk record to dislocate your neck to. With that said, just like with The Money Store, I do think the lyrics are worth reading into, as they give the music they belong to a whole new meaning after being examined and interpreted for yourself.

Although I have warm regards for Deep Fantasy, it isn’t without its most glaring flaw, which is its anemic amount of repetition from about a third of the way through the LP until the second-to-last track. Some may excuse this because the record is only 22 minutes long, but Deep Fantasy doesn’t have 22 minutes of ideas that they explore. What you’ll get on this LP is very energetic and sometimes pretty catchy underground punk rock that, with a few notable exceptions, blurs together somewhat, with tracks that end exactly how they begin, and a lot of songs that, on reflection, amount to little more than background music thanks to a lack of any attention-grabbing instrumentation or a standout lyric.

To me, the best parts of this record happen at the beginning, middle and end. Opening one-two punch “Drown with the Monster” and “Down It Goes” kick off the album with a bang, complete with orgasmic guitar riffs and some of the catchiest and most memorable choruses on the entire record; meanwhile, the album’s centrepiece track “I Believe You” is the most aggressive and punchy song on the entire album. From start to finish, this song is complete chaos and fire, and is home to Mish Way’s best vocal performance of her entire career.

The closer and longest track on the album “In Your Home” ends the album in a great way, being a well-executed culmination of all the best elements of Deep Fantasy – the catchy instrumentation, the delectably-capable vocals, pounding snare hits and cymbal crashes, and a noticeable appreciation for 90s female-fronted rock groups. This song in particular sounds like it could be a Hole song circa 1998, though it does still sound distinctly White Lung.

All in all, Deep Fantasy is a record that’s about half excellence and half filler. Although the weak, nondescript tracks on the album do occasionally show spots of nuance, such as the Joyce Manor-esque guitar on “Just for You” or the obviously live performance-centred feel of “Lucky One”, White Lung’s latest is an earnest attempt at punk rock majesty that’s sadly let down by a severe lack of variety throughout.

If you’re a fan of brash, no-bullshit punk rock with explosive female vocalists, then I can recommend Deep Fantasy to you, as there is enough good material on here to be worth your time. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself left cold by a lot of the album’s more feeble tracks.

Your friend,
Jess Casebeer

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