Album Review: The Whitest Boy Alive – Rules


You might be surprised that Berlin-based band The Whitest Boy Alive started out as an electronic, dance-oriented outfit. Their 2006 debut album, Dreams, didn’t leave many hints of any dancefloor grooving in the quartet’s precise, minimalistic indie pop.

When writing about Kings of Convenience or The Whitest Boy Alive, it’s dutifully and somehow reluctantly necessary to mention Erlend Øye. The reason of duty is traced back to the artistic credibility he garnered in the ’00s as one of the most known and respected indie/alternative profiles in both pop/rock and electronic spheres. My reason of reluctance is that I see no point in bringing up his name to further add to his already heavy sack of praise.

However, I would’ve been unable to ignore Øye if I had wanted to, since the band’s second album is pretty much the same affair as Dreams. Øye’s pleasantly soothing voice still delivers melodies that display a subtle intricacy and easily matching his eccentrically low-key persona. They are less sweet, more chopped up, and because of the instrumental surroundings, delivered with more punch than the melodies of Kings Of Convenience.

If the concise and sparse production of Dreams was easy to follow when daydreaming, then Rules is the album that firmly pins the band’s sound down to the floor – the dancefloor, that is! An accentuation on the tight interplay between the drums and bass and slightly shorter tracks overall make for an album that effectively struts past you surprisingly quick. Still, Rules is two minutes longer than its predecessor.

Notably, “Courage” and “High On The Heels” are the two tracks that best utilize the vintage synths that Øye (we can all be pretty sure it’s Øye’s inclusion, right?) has brought to the band’s sound. By making them stutter he makes them perfectly fitting for the band’s meticulous and fast-paced instrumentation and also connects us to what their electronic past might have sounded like. There’s no doubt that my personal favourite, “Courage”, will get a lot of indie kids making stuttering moves on the dancefloor. Of course, there’s a lot more bass work going on in this album, offering a charming and unexpected alternative to today’s electrohouse.

Perhaps this is a smart move from The Whitest Boy Alive. In times of the climaxing of disco revivalism I wouldn’t have been surprised if DFA had been interested in releasing Rules if The Whitest Boy Alive hadn’t used their own label, Bubbles. You shouldn’t be particularly surprised either if a DFA remix of “Courage” or a Studio remake of the almost seven minute long closing track “Islands” out after the album’s release on March 3rd.

I’ve never considered The Whitest Boy Alive easy-listening. There’s always been too many good lyrics and minimalistic production qualities to pass it on as sheer light-touch pop. Three years after the debut, the same aspects are still present. The catch here is that Rules catches the band in such an admirably concentrated, yet relievingly swinging and perfectly restrained, yet enjoyably jamming state, that it can no longer be submitted to elevators and waiting rooms. That’s a success in its own right. If that will affect the band’s income and Øye’s satisfaction, I don’t know. I do know, however, that against heavy competition of Animal Collective’s latest album, The Whitest Boy Alive’s chilly minimalistic dance-pop will keep my heart warm all through the winter and a good bit into the spring as well.

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