Review Summary: White Hats is a great album if you can get into it the right way.
In Greek Mythology, Niobe was a mortal woman who, with husband Amphion, had fourteen children, seven boys and seven girls. Niobe had bragged to goddess Leto that she had fourteen children, whereas Leto only had two, the twins Apollo and Artemis. Leto’s seething jealousy towards Niobe led to sending her twins to killing all of Niobe and Amphion’s children. When Amphion received the news of his slain children, he committed suicide. Niobe fled to Mount Sipylus of Lydia, where she cried and turned into stone.
Odd that German singer/songwriter Yvonne Cornelius would choose Niobe as a moniker to work under. While the Greek myth of Niobe is indeed a tragic and horrific one, Yvonne Cornelius’ electronica project Niobe is actually more of a mystery than anything. There is, for the most part, not a lot going on in the music, with sparse soundscapes dipped in static and Niobe’s harmonized crooning overtop, which create an eerie yet intriguing atmosphere. Even in the world of electronic music, it rarely sounds familiar, much less conventional.
White Hats is not exactly an accessible album, even though it is not entirely weird or strange. It took me a couple listens to actually get into it, and even though some moments hit me from the beginning, the album as a whole never seemed to make a full circle and complete itself. The problem with this album is that you have to be in a very specific mood. At times it’s deliciously funky (“Cool Alpine”, “Surround Your Hoover” and especially “Up Hill and Down Dale”), but other times it’s barely more than white noise accompanied with Yvonne’s distinguished vocals soaring overtop (“Well and Wise”, which has an absolutely beautiful second half, and “Drei Zinnen”, taking cues from a classic musical mood). It never really compromises it’s sound entirely, but rather experiments with several different sounds, sometimes all at once (“None But One”, the album’s most breathtaking and fortified song). While it experiments with a few songs and succeeds on mostly all of them, the album doesn’t seem as cohesive as it should be, a problem that’s not exactly a major fumble, but rather a frustrating misstep at specific moments.
But the best moments are the sincere singer/songwriter moments, where it’s rarely more than Yvonne’s ballroom vocals, a simple acoustic guitar or piano, and a sparse, cloudy atmosphere that swarms up underneath. The album’s three best songs, “In the Sun”, “None But One”, and “The Hills” (which run sequentially), are more stripped down songs that take cues from classical guitar pieces, soft ballads and beautiful pop melodies. These songs are winners because they not only seem more conventional than the other songs, but are much more engaging and enriched, which make for a more appealing listen to mostly anyone.
White Hats is a great album if you can get into it the right way. It doesn’t have any missteps in the songs themselves, but as mentioned before the way the album runs may be more confusing or frustrating than would be desired. But regardless, Niobe’s White Hats is an album full of simple gems, subtle space-pop and nice ballads. Not bad for someone whose turned to stone and whose children have been killed.