In 2007, White Rabbits was an adventurous band. The Brooklyn outfit dubbed its sound “honky-tonk calypso,” worshipped openly at the house of 2 Tone ska, and stuffed each song on its debut Fort Nightly with enough ideas to spawn as many theoretical spinoff EPs. But with 2009’s It’s Frightening, White Rabbits enlisted Spoon’s Britt Daniel to produce and became something else entirely: clean, tight, focused, cool—Spoon 2.0. White Rabbits aim to correct that glitch with Milk Famous, and the man who gets them there, oddly enough, is former Spoon producer Mike McCarthy.
Opener “Heavy Metal” is all about arrangement. The first sound is a flurry of reversed piano keys soon to be joined by a spare backbeat, intermittent jabs of stormy guitar, and Stephen Patterson’s slinky falsetto. The song should be off-putting in its jagged minimalism, but instead it entices, draws the listener closer. “I’m Not Me” recoils with a blast of garage rock that morphs into Ben Folds-style piano pop before every last bolt holding the thing together is shaken loose by a flurry of metal drumming. Then the band tightens the screws with “Hold It To The Fire” as beats pitter-patter across bright keys and OK Computer squall.
Milk Famous is always shifting, each song travelling a significant distance in its three or four minutes: crawling through reverb pools, gliding across weightless puffs of melody, being broken up into a hundred dancing samples, or suddenly live, close-miked, and raw. Like the group’s enigmatic lyrics, the mood is often hard to pin down, but Milk Famous is consistent in the one way White Rabbits needs to be: At all times, it’s adventurous.