“Baby” – White Hinterland

3 stars (out of 5)

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BabyThe first and last tracks on the third album by US female singer songwriter White Hinterland act as a misleading but appropriate prelude and postscript to the bulk of “Baby”. Misleading as, apart from one revisit to the downcast “David”, these tracks do not resemble the songs that they bookend in musical style at all. The album opener, “Wait Until Dark”, is tense and paranoid; unaccompanied vocals are finally joined by a lone, dominant piano which seems to circle the neighbour block referred to in the song’s lyrics. It’s a dramatic and attention-seeking opening and shows how far Casey Diesel has come as a performer since White Hinterland’s debut in 2008; she sounds fantastic. The last track “Live With You”, again just piano and vocals, sees some sort of resolution and tells of domesticity and a realisation of love, it’s warm and inhabits the soulful world of Laura Nyro or Carole King. So what of the remaining eighty per cent?

Dry Mind” opens with heavenly voices, fractured and bouncing vocal samples and a thick, mid-tempo beat.  More elements are introduced; further vocal loops, cut and reversed electronics and a melody and rhythm that are more in keeping with indie r’n’b as opposed to the more straightforward Kate Bush art rock that introduces the album. “Ring The Bell” continues with these big, busy extrovert musical themes and brings some gorgeous brass along with it. Diesel soars high above the whole thing and just about manages to take control of what almost teeters on the edge of chaos. These tracks, the style of which makes up the  majority of the album’s playing time, are reminiscent of early My Brightest Diamond, a less rigid St Vincent and the playfulness of Tune-Yards but without the world music bias; vocally dominant women who successfully dally in multiple genres, refusing to commit to just one.

White Noise”, the brassiest track here and also the most forthright, and “Metronome” (about alcoholism and sex respectively) are beat-heavy and uninhibited, delirious but thought-out tunes that serve as the absolute highlights of the set; they also serve to emphasise the shortage of solid songs here. Whilst these tracks grab your attention and maintain it from start to finish they also have tunes that will pop up in your head long after you’ve finished listening to the album and because of Diesel’s incredibly felt and centrally-placed vocals this is a collection of tracks that cry out for melodies that support the strength of her performances. Tracks like “Baby” and “No Devotion”, although drenched in fantastic effects and details, make little lasting impact and even following several album replays it’s as though they are being experienced for the first time everytime.

Enclosed within its acoustic shell, “Baby” is an album full of amazing, buzzing sounds and enduring passions. With each subsequent album Diesel has upped the ante and from the humble, lo-fi beginnings of “Phylactery Factory” to the present, the soundscape has grown to almost a full spectacle. On occasion it’s a little on the rich side; there’s nothing wrong with that but when opulence forsakes structure and a high is sometimes followed by amnesia then a wish for stronger melodies occasionally  prevails. Instant impressions based on the aforementioned opening and closing tracks also dictate that the album is listened to in full to avoid what could be considered by some as a nasty surprise. White Hinterland has made something that is, I suspect, deeply personal and with a palpable sense of freedom which is liberating, sometimes garishly so, but despite its shortfalls there is still plenty here to enjoy.