White Lung don’t sound like Hole. They don’t sound like L7, either. The only way they’d sound like Babes In Toyland is if you shot Babes In Toyland full of adrenaline and then forced them to claw their way out of a gigantic plastic bag. It doesn’t make much sense, musically at least, to compare White Lung to the blistering, confrontational, woman-dominated rock bands that achieved something resembling stardom in the ’90s. Their music is too fast and chaotic and jangled, and their hooks fly by with nervous impatient energy. It was weird to hear “Pretend We’re Dead” between Soul Asylum and World Party on alt-rock radio back in the day, but it would be such a jolt to hear White Lung there that it just never would’ve happened. Those bands were built on different foundations, of ’80s radio-rock and a punk scene that hadn’t quite become an ossified institution yet. White Lung come from the DIY punk universe, from warehouse-loft shows and endless van slogs and throwing your album up on Bandcamp and hoping someone notices. Their music is different. Their context is different. And yet, on their new album Deep Fantasy, White Lung crackle with possibility in a way that reminds me of those old bands. White Lung won’t become rock stars, at least not in the old way, since all their roads to rock stardom have been buried under rubble for years. But on Deep Fantasy, they stand tall and majestic in a way that bands of their background almost never do. They project power. They scream at the rafters. They walk right up to you and grab you by the throat. Deep Fantasy demands response, and it’s thrilling to hear an album that willfully jabs its neck out like this one does.
Deep Fantasy is 22 minutes long, and it feels shorter than that. Its 10 songs just hurtle by, sprinting and scrambling, never letting up the intensity for a second. Guitarist Kenneth Williams basically plays surf-guitar riffs at black-metal velocities. His guitars needle and screech, and even if he tends to break his melodies up into a thousand refracted shards, the melodies are still there, in vengeful-mosquito form. His playing sounds like chaos, and it takes a while to let your ears capture what he’s doing, to hear the structure in his storm. By that same token, the band’s utterly badass rhythm section seems, at first, to be galloping a half-step too fast, hammering quickly enough to overwhelm. But they’re absolutely locked in with each other, and once you orient your ear to what they’re doing, you can hear the precision as well as the ferocity. And frontwoman Mish Way exists within that tangled attack as an indomitable force, beaming toughness and fury all over the place. Way is as comfortable singing about rough sex as she is blasting rape-culture politics (on the anthemic “I Believe You”), and her voice never disappears into the cyclone the way so many others might. If you’ve seen the band live — and god knows, they’ve been touring hard enough to give you plenty of chances — you’ve borne witness to one of the tightest, most instinctive units on the touring circuit, and you’ve seen the theatrical power of the way Way carries herself onstage. She isn’t the sort of frontwoman whose live presence really can translate to a recording, but Deep Fantasy comes closer than I would’ve thought possible.
The White Lung of Deep Fantasy is very much the same band who made the great 2012 record Sorry, an album slept-on by too many critics at the time, including me. That album was just as fast and insistent and bruising as Deep Fantasy. But Sorry was, at its heart, a DIY punk album, and Deep Fantasy is something else. Jesse Gander, who produced Sorry, returns to helm this one, but he’s doing things differently this time. Sorry wasn’t exactly a muffled record — it kicked hard by underground-punk standards — but Deep Fantasy cranks the color and contrast to a previously unheard-of degree. This isn’t a hyper-compressed major-label mastering job, but it sharp and clear enough that you can see every glint and gleam in its pile of broken glass. When Sorry was on, it wasn’t easy to read or write or wash dishes or whatever, but it was at least possible. Deep Fantasy won’t let you do anything like that. It’ll muscle its way up to the front of your consciousness, and it will demand the whole of your attention. And if you’re not submitting to it completely, letting its hurricane-force winds knock you around, you’re listening to it wrong.
A quick digression here: My little sister, who is nine years younger than me, has never given much of a shit about music. But when she was 13 or 14, my brother took her to her first show, and that show was Sleater-Kinney at Roseland in New York. This was Sleater-Kinney circa-One Beat, at the peak of their live powers, a force that could not be denied. And so even though my sister is nobody’s idea of a music nerd, she left that show knocked sideways. When she was telling me about it — I was so jealous that someone else had taken her — she kept talking about a moment of connection she felt with Carrie Brownstein: “She looked at me! Like twice!” This was a small moment, and it didn’t turn my sister into a raging Sleater-Kinney fan or anything. But my sister has had to deal with a lot in her life — cerebral palsy, severe learning disabilities — and I like to imagine that she was able to pull some measure of extra strength from that moment. Before Deep Fantasy, White Lung were an absolutely badass punk band. After hearing it, I think they’re the sort of band where, if a person were to go see one of their shows and briefly make eye contact with Way, that person might walk out changed.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Lana Del Rey’s swooning, rapturous Ultraviolence.
• Sam Smith’s softly soulful debut In The Lonely Hour.
• The Antlers’ swelling, death-haunted Familiars.
• Happyness’s lush, energized debut Weird Little Birthday.
• Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor’s solo effort Await Barbarians.
• Lower’s intensely brooding punker Seek Warmer Climes.
• Greys’ raw, pummeling If Anything.
• The Soft Pink Truth’s conceptual black metal covers collection Why Do The Heathen Rage.
• Alex G’s giddily lo-fi DSU.
• Lone’s fleet but thoughtful thumper Reality Testing.
• The Austerity Program’s crisp and mean Beyond Calculation.
• Boris’s gooey, riff-heavy Noise.
• Big Freedia’s bounce affirmation Stay Free.
• Frog Eyes’ personal, proggy Carey’s Cold Spring.
• Cocktails’ giddy power-popper Adult Life.
• Say Hi’s skronky, mathy Endless Wonder.
• Empires’ thoughtfully streamlined How Good Does It Feel.
• Shark?’s scraping, knowing Summer Ale.
• Barghest’s sludgy Southern black metaller The Virtuous Purge.
• Cerebral Ballzy’s scrappy Jaded & Faded.
• The Knife’s remix collection Shaken-Up Versions.
• Austra’s Habitat EP.