White Willow, "Signal to Noise"
White Willow is getting a lot of criticism over what is regarded as a dramatic change in presentation, but despite the somewhat safer approach still cements itself as a dominant force in progressive rock. While I do miss the reckless abandon of previous works such as Sacrament, Signal to Noise is a logical progression of a prog band maturing with time and attempting to impress more with structure than shock.
Still female fronted albeit by a new voice, White Willow hasn't missed a step vocally and the listener would be hard pressed to determine any lineup change, but that's probably the only similarity between this record and the band's earlier material. Musically the band is still experimenting with different, lush tones, but this disc don't seem as listener-interactive as the last few, which was very distinctive for White Willow. Usually most prog bands simply drape their musical tapestries over the listener, whereas White Willow liked fucking shock you, whether it was through the suprisingly tasteful use of unconventional instruments/sounds or by truly disturbing climaxes following a false sense of security developed through purposely bare arrangements. There's a lot to remember the band for on this record, but sadly none of it is for being truly daring. The band has always has a cheesy element to them, but the focus of these eyeroll-inducing moments has shifted from the occasional autowah funk line and over the top Ren-Faire stein swingery to dangerously commercial tracks such as "Joyride." While White Willow can still tug at your heartstrings, the wide palette of emotional responses once effortlessly wielded by them is severely truncated on this release, and while there is still much more integrity to them than most undeserving prog bands, it would be a shame for them to continue stripping themselves down for the sake of wider acclaim. Giving a shit, in my opinion, should never be a musical incentive in the progressive genre.
Although Signal to Noise is definitely enjoyable on superficial levels, I know White Willow to be a very, very dangerous band. Here's hoping they remember that as well on the next release.J.Hauppa