Album Reviews

White Hinterland – Baby

(Dead Oceans) UK release date: 31 March 2014

White Hinterland - Baby No matter how you cut it, White Hinterland’s Casey Dienel has one of the most arresting voices in modern music. The music she crafts to showcase it is sublime – she’s drawn comparisons to Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, which shows you the amount of love she’s drawing from people who must have been sleeping since 4AD’s glory days. Well, they’re awake now, and Baby is sure to satisfy, beguile and entrance anyone who loved this kind of music the first time it came around.

Album opener Wait Until Dark has an almost Gothic gravitas to it – Dienel’s voice rises and falls like that of the Cocteaus’ Elizabeth Fraser, and Fraser’s biggest fan Jeff Buckley. The second track, Dry Mind, sounds relentlessly modern – the thick, layered production incorporates clacking beats, twitchy rhythms and processed vocals. The clean, unprocessed vocals are again the main focal point – Dienel’s ability to switch between her yearning, imploring lower register and thoroughly chilling higher notes is not only impressive, it’s very useful on tracks like this.

The dense production of Ring The Bell and the sparse, bare atmosphere of David are dichotomous but equally enthralling. It’s the latter that becomes the highlight of the record upon repeat listens – it’s a seductive ballad, with firm piano chords and a thoroughly spectral vocal performance. It’s easy to draw comparisons with contemporary acts that have utilised solo piano dramatics to feign some kind of emotional message – not least Rihanna on the dry Stay. David is the real deal – Dienel’s quavering voice sits perfectly with the glacial piano accompaniment, and it paints the air with the same kind emotional intensity and raw sincerity as Monsieur Buckley.

The variance in production styles unfold over the remaining album tracks: from the post-dubstep sparkle of Baby, to the modern R&B thud of Metronome, the album never sticks to one particular tack. Metronome is a fiery number, with multi-tracked vocals and banging percussion sounds that are almost industrial in their relentless rhythmic power. No Devotion is deconstructed, glitchy electro-pop with a tenderness and openness you’d expect from Portishead, further supported by the tense, gloomy tones that ring around your cranium.

Another contender for album-pick is the surrealistic march of mid-album cut White Noise, which has the rhythmic power of Florence And The Machine, only with more off-kilter dramatics. On first listen, you could mistake the track that surrounds Dienel’s voice for a warped, skipping Talking Heads or INXS cut, such is the bizarre yet instantly evocative musical atmosphere.

The album closes with a thrilling one-two – Sickle No Sword and Live With You are vastly different, yet completely similar in effect. The former has a thrilling, Bristol-sound air with peculiar background noises including tinkling piano riffs and thudding, sibilant percussion; the latter has an austere, emotionally charged musicality ripe with White Hinterland’s signature dramatics.

Dienel and co have surpassed any of their previous efforts, including the incredible debut Phylactery Factory, and the most recent beauty Kairos. Dead Oceans has an unbelievable catalogue, and an astonishingly diverse current roster (A Place To Bury Strangers and Phosphorescent are probably the strongest acts on the label), and this new release from White Hinterland ensures they’ll be having a vintage year.

Dienel’s mind-blowing vocal ability (and extraordinarily photogenic face) has gained her a cult following, but this should be the release that breaks her into the mainstream. If you’re a fan of Florence And The Machine, Jeff Buckley, Laura Nyro or even Poliça, grab a copy of Baby, take the day off work and bask in the irrepressible Venusian energy of one of the finest female artists in modern pop music. You’ll be glad you did.

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More on White Hinterland
White Hinterland – Baby
White Hinterland – Kairos