The Whitest Boy Alive


(Bubbles; 2009)

By Colin McGowan | 13 April 2009

One-upping the Pale Young Gentlemen for worst name expressing a band’s melanin deficiency, Whitest Boy Alive seem to strive to expand the bounds of what I will admit is “like, pretty good…I guess.” This is the only boundary-pushing WBA attempt; their danceable-if-dancing-involves-sitting-on-a-bed-and-swaying-in-a-vegetative-state pop makes me think there are a lot of bands out there like WBA, but I can’t conjure up any names because I don’t listen to them. I mean, there have to be 43 of these bands in Scandinavia alone.

So this review can perhaps function as an evaluation of all marginally enjoyable outfits or side-projects sprinkling bits of lite funk and electronica into their vanilla sundaes. Pleasant is a word that’s hard to escape in evaluating WBA’s music, never a detriment so much as a narcotic. “Intentions” turns over violently as a codeined father in a hammock, which is fine and all, but “Rollercoaster Ride,” I think, is supposed to be somber, and instead doesn’t emit any palpable sadness, content to express its depression in vaguely downtrodden chords and an even slower arrangement. The whole thing feels like it has the emotional range of that Zoloft commercial with the oval-shaped protagonist.

Which isn’t to say I’m expecting some brilliant social commentary from a band whose goal is probably to soundtrack whiskey shots and congenial grinding, but, even operating under that premise, Rules is too tepid. “1517” sounds a lot like “Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger” without the sputtering drums or impetus to shake one’s ass. “Timebomb” is either an exercise in blue balls or has a climax so placid I fail to acknowledge it as an actual peak. “Gravity” is the nicest in a crop of nice-enough Sunday afternoon numbers, channeling some reserved disdain with the lines “You only want to be with her because she’s mine / You will lose me as a friend if you cross that line.” As the only track here with any legitimate teeth, carried mostly in Erlend Øye’s resolute tone, it makes it all very clear that Rules will never reach any temper greater than even, heavy-lidded sternness.

This stonefaced aesthetic pervades the record—desperation never turning over into shouts; sappiness failing to venture beyond melancholia; happiness never bursting through—and the whole thing coheres into a sort of non-odyssey, one of those indie flicks that attempts to comment on the struggles of everyday existence but ultimately ends up documenting mundaneity. In all, the languidness of Rules has its own odd charm—since WBA never aspire to be much beyond a wistful dance pop quartet, they don’t fall down the stairs too embarrassingly. It’s all very safe, a comment without an intended audience or real purpose, playing itself into a oblivion long after everyone has left the room.