J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Now Departing:
Big Ditch Road - The Jackson Whites
The Whigs - Mission Control

Big Ditch Road
The Jackson Whites
(Eclectone ; 2008)

It's a privilege to watch a band evolve. It happens so rarely that it makes it all the more exciting to get in on. Which is why The Jackson Whites is such a thrilling EP - it's the moment that a band seems to have truly arrived.

Listeners to the show might remember that Big Ditch Road's most recent LP, 2006's Suicide Note Reader's Companion, was my # 5 album of that year - an achingly subdued sounding record that straddled a connecting point between straight-up country reverential, roots-rock and American indie. Their previous LP, Ring, had been their trad country album and here they were dragging more influences on board. The Jackson Whites shows them in yet another state - the country influences have faded to the background, the amps are turned up a bit more, as is the production, and what it amounts to is as fine an American rock record as you could ask for.

"Waiting to Destroy" starts off with a simply strummed acoustic and lead singer Darin Wald's unique voice before breaking into a full band rush. Lyrically recalling, of all people, the Circle Jerks ("I wanna destroy you.." Wald sings), the song is upbeat, brief, and a tremendous opening song. The title track and "All the Way to Idaho" echo this boisterous, rocking tempo, even if the lyrical topics aren't always as happy.

Wald told me in an interview that he purposefully turned away from the "crying in your beer" lyricism of their earlier work in order to look outward. And the results of this are everywhere - the title track's reference to an oft-maligned Native American tribe, "A Bad Chord Change"'s reference to Atlas Shrugged and "Northwoods Report / Chomsky '08"'s reference to both a questionable (at best) moment in American history and the noted linguist and political activist. All of this gives the listener something deeper to probe into, looking for the connections between these ideas and the larger work of art in which they appear.

Having firmly cast their lot with the rockier element of their sound, and having opened up their lyricism to new horizons and allusions, Big Ditch Road has created a thrilling EP of material that could easily be called the best of their career. Now how about a full-length LP of the same quality?

Rating: A(udiophilic) / E(xcellent)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Big Ditch Road - "Waiting to Destroy"

Big Ditch Road - "The Jackson Whites"

Download The Jackson Whites from EMusic.


The Whigs
Mission Control
(ATO ; 2008)

Speaking of great rock records, re-enter the Whigs. Their 2005 (or '06, depending) debut, Give 'Em All a Big Fat Lip, was raucous, touching rock and roll at its finest. While certainly delving in the classic indie-guitar sounds of the 2000s, there was enough to hint that something really astounding was coming. That's Mission Control.

Expanding on the explosive rock and roll of their debut, the Whigs traffic in all sorts of styles for the follow-up - but not to the extent that it feels like a genre party. Rather, it's elements of various styles layered over their solid template. "Production City" explodes with guitars that mimic the dance-punk revival of the early 00s, sounding here like they just one-upped Moving Units at their own game; "I Never Want to Go Home" sounds like a great, lost Lemonheads song; and "Hot Bed" bursts with a raspier and more minimalized version of the great orchestrated indie-pop of recent years.

There really, honestly isn't a bum song on the entire album, but the highlights are astounding. "Right Hand on My Heart," the lead single, is one of those anthemic-chorus songs that infests your brain - in my case, for weeks at a time. "Sleep Sunshine" moves in a circular pattern that recalls some of the best, softer moments of the oft-overlooked Polaris (creators of "Hey, Sandy," the theme song to The Adventures of Pete and Pete). It's often puzzled me a bit that All Music Guide references Son Volt as an influence for the Whigs, but here vague country elements, specifically pedal steel, add beautiful adornment to a gorgeous and fuzzy ballad. "I Got Ideas" is the very definition of indie power-pop, spreading its verse melodies across a sneaky bass line, only to have the chorus erupt in horns and foot-tapping singing.

With eleven songs in just under 38 minutes, Mission Control is the type of album that a band needs to make in order to win fans over. It's concise, tight and catchy without feeling like you're listening to the same song over and over for eleven tracks. There are so many songs on this record that should rightfully be radio fodder that it's ridiculous. Why bands like this have to struggle for wider, commercial access still floors me, but then I haven't had my finger on the pulse of commercial radio for some time. All that matters here is that Mission Control is a rollicking record of sincere quality and style. Looks like Athens, Georgia does it again.

Rating: A(udiophilic)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

The Whigs - "Right Hand on My Heart"

The Whigs - "I Never Want to Go Home"

The Whigs - "Hot Bed"

Related: J. interviews the Whigs on J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Download Mission Control from EMusic.

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  • At 8:55 PM, February 06, 2008, Blogger nffcnnr said…

    i've been listening to Mission Control non-freakin'-stop since i got it. So rad.

  • At 11:48 AM, February 07, 2008, Blogger J. Neas said…

    No joke. Some of the reviews I've read of it have given it kind of middling returns, but I honestly think it's a stellar and fantastic rock record. I'm with you - it's been a constant in my rotation.


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