Review Summary: Ambitious, lush, cinematic- all of this in an accessible pop music package
White Moth Black Butterfly’s Atone
is an album that uses what is unmistakably a pop music template and ambitiously dresses it with a brocade of experimentation and a big cinematic sound. It’s not immediately apparent however, with the opening track, Incarnate sounding like a Max Richter composition. This is something we hear throughout the album- tracks drenched in keyboardist Randy Slaugh’s beautiful string arrangements . We hear them in all forms- from kinetic pizzicatos, to long soaring strokes to cinematic cello slides. But it quickly becomes evident through tracks like Rising Sun
and The Serpent
that the band is ultimately interested in creating pop songs through hooks and melodies.
Those who are familiar with his other projects, will know frontman Dan Tompkins as an accomplished vocalist. His buttery smooth vocals are in harmony with the sweet pop singer sharpness (never nasally) of Jordan Turner’s own as they sing impassionately about vague spiritual and Biblical themes. The pacing is like that of a pop album as well- the songs barely ever cross the 4-minute mark. Yet there is a sense of narrative consistency bolstered by a three song suite, scattered throughout the countenance of the album.
Just like how the artwork seems to suggest a duality, and to expound on what I said earlier, there is an ambitious and progressive side to the album as well. We have a pounding drum rhythm by Mac Christensen in Tempest
, eastern instrumentation with the pipa and woodwinds in The Sage
and an epic choir section in the album’s closer Evelyn
(in addition to the densely immersive string arrangements that I already mentioned). None of these things are ever at odds with the pop sensibilities of the album. The moment I knew it worked was when I realized that I didn’t need the progressive elements to offset the infectious vocals, the catchy guitar parts or the punchy basslines- I just knew that it was all part of a perfect marriage. One that I still can’t comprehend how the band was able to pull off with this level of refinement. The album is definitely very accessible, but the texture and the ambience are never compromised. This is evident in the outro for Penitence
which has a sample that sounds like the cries of a distant world during its last war and pretty much the entirety of Deep Earth
wherein we get a marching drone sound alongside a pulsating cello (which invokes the imagery of an ancient army marching through the recesses of the planet).
is an incredibly lush and satisfactory album to listen to. It pushes hard the rare agenda of “sonically sophisticated and stylish but accessible” yet the result is extremely refined and almost without any blemish. Perhaps the album could’ve been longer with more substantial quieter parts- it did show potential to be ‘meditative’. And maybe some of its musical motifs and dynamics are repetitive, but I guess I’m just caviling for the sake of it at this point. There are no stand out tracks here (maybe with the exception of Rising Sun
), but what you do get is nearly 40 minutes of consistent and elegant music that will surely leave you reeling for the remainder of the hour.