Track This: Whitehorse's "Wisconsin"

Folk has increasingly been the rule here at headquarters. When it gets really cold out, there are too consistent directions for the music hereabouts -- acoustic or metal. As it gets colder,(Temperatures are dropping into the negatives lately) the folk albums drop increasingly onto the turntable. While other Canadian folk bands have been covered on the blog, Whitehorse, whose tuneful melodic folk tunes have helped them make the Polaris Short List, has never been mentioned. Their album The Fate of the World Depends on this Kiss is a stunner; beautiful melodies, harmony vocals, and terse production help them stand above the rest in an increasingly crowded field.

Whitehorse is made up of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, who both had successful solo careers before teaming up. They have released two records, including The Fate of the World and an earlier equally relevant Self-Titled Effort. These two know how to lay down a mood. Comparisons to the Handsome Family can be easily made, yet this husband and wife team doesn't write songs that are quite that tragic. There is an ache in each of these songs, but they are at a much more personal level than the Handsome Family's folklore leanings.

Their track, "Wisconsin," begins with the timely, "They're busting unions in Wisconsin / We've got mojitos by the pool" set to a summery lilt. The songs beautiful flamenco-style guitars are a perfect backdrop to the the different tales being told. They juxtapose a relationship with current events, painting an otherworldly scene through effects and the intertwining of their vocals. They sing, "We've got a talent for distraction / No reaction to the colic or the cruel." The track is perhaps not very signature. Others use electric guitar and tons of noise, but all paint a picture of narrators that are just trying to get by. Few groups can make the personal so political with a few well-chosen lyrics.

White Horse is able to deftly change it up, remaining folky, but spirited; they can rock, but they can also write a slow blisterer. Listen to "Peterbilt Coalmine," with its insistent hook and drums or "Cold July" with its languid vocals and piano melodies. Oddly, sometimes, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion comes to mind; other times, the album sounds like Eilen Jewell's more rocking side -- "No Glamour in the Hammer." "Mexico Texaco" begins softly with the jazzy tap of high-hat, followed by some beautiful guitar chords that create a moment of sheer bliss. Yet even just in the song, "Wisconsin," their penchant for melody and knack for lyrics shows how expansive their sound is, transporting the listener away from cold places like Wisconsin or warmer places into a world of drifters that must eventually return to their own private thoughts. Escape through confrontation can be as easily achieved in an acoustic setting as a more raucous one.

Track This is a recurring feature of Snobbin' that turns the music appreciation dial up and rips it off of your stereo. It attempts to introduce a new track, allow readers to rediscover an underappreciated track, or just serve as a forum to flat out discuss a track that falls into the ear candy category and should be listened to unabashedly for years to come.


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