Being called "the MAZZY STAR of prog" isn't exactly a big selling point, is it? With their new album, Finland's hotly-tipped progressive chameleons morph into something kinda commercial and directionless — pretty, beguiling background music that ends up going nowhere.
Look at the song "Splinters" for an example of what's wrong here — it takes us four of the song's eight minutes to get to the chorus, not because the band is doing anything awesome or even building an atmosphere, but because they're just plodding along at a zombie's pace and exercising restraint to the point where you wonder why half of them came to the studio that day. Then, after all that, the chorus is weak, and oddly mixed, with the instruments dropping low to allow room for new singer Trude Eidtang's multitracked warble. The song wanders off, then, around the six-minute mark, into a quiet part which builds into a semi-interesting guitar hook. Then — oh joy, that chorus again! Can I have my eight minutes back, please?
To top it off, the next song (the instrumental "Ghosts") continues on at the same tempo, making the proceedings seem to drag even more. There's some random electronic beeping and chirping, and a flute or something, as it slowly, agonizingly, painfully, builds up to… what? "Signal To Noise" is all setup and no payoff, layers upon layers of sitar, woodwind, keyboard and breathy female vocals, going nowhere fast — or slowly, as the case may be.
"Joyride" will bring out the MAZZY STAR and SUNDAYS comparisons in force, as the song is basically a lushly-produced pop tune. Nothing wrong with that, but why are we supposed to accept it as progressive rock? "The Lingering" takes us right back to the plodding tempo of "Splinters", but at least there's a little increase in volume at several points, if only to make sure we're still awake, and some great keyboard work during the heavier parts to remind us that WHITE WILLOW might, at some point, rock.
Eidtang is a beautiful singer, and the band obviously has chops to spare. The problem with "Signal To Noise" isn't that it's dreamy and poppy — it's that the songs are stuck in some netherworld between dream-pop and progressive rock, leading to parts that would make perfectly delightful four-minute songs, stretched out and needlessly overproduced without any further exploration of the musical ideas within.
I'm not saying WHITE WILLOW need to "get heavy" — not at all. A band doesn't have to marry itself to power chords forever to create compelling music — the evolution of THE GATHERING proved that. It seems like WHITE WILLOW perhaps tried to follow that path, but stumbled along the way. They owe it to their listeners, and to their own unquestionable talents, to be a little less dreary and soporific.
Everything here is impeccably put together, gleaming and precise, yet lacking in energy, or any feeling save a breathy hesitation. The end result? A big, beautiful bore.