Album Review: The Whitest Boy Alive – Rules

Evolving from an electronic project into a fully functioning band, The Whitest Boy Alive have come to rest in a land of pleasantly understated dance pop with their March 2009 release Rules (CDMP3). Erlend Oye, best-known for his work with mellow folk duo Kings of Convenience, unravels his considerable melodic talents all over this disc.

The Whitest Boy Alive - RulesHis soothing voice and glimmering guitar are supported by the jazzy combo of Marcin Öz (bass), Sebastian Maschat (drums) and Daniel Nentwig (Rhodes & Crumar). Nentwig’s delicious Rhodes work makes this album rich and flavorful throughout, combining with the drums and bass to create warm layers of smooth, buttery funk and chord-driven jazz-pop. That said, their name isn’t at all ironic – it pretty much hits the nail squarely on the head.

Fans of Kings of Convenience will find a lot to love here, as Oye’s lyrical and vocal style is as mesmerizing as ever. Where the Kings swing and simmer, though, this quartet cooks on medium-high heat. Songs like “Island” and “Promise Less Or Do More” endeavor to make the listener move in a much more overt manner than Oye’s voice might indicate. His engaging proclamations are the gravitational center of some very entertaining, if not widely varied, musical movements.

The aforementioned “Island” rolls along like a roller-rink classic with a touch of Steely Dan-style wryness. Oye’s melancholy lyrics lend a dramatic feel to the otherwise dance-ready music, and the juxtaposition of moods is incredibly pleasing. The song eventually opens up into a section of instrumental playfulness that suits this rhythmically talented group nicely. They don’t try to venture into the great beyond, wisely choosing to stick to what they do best. I get the feeling that the last thing you’d want to hear these guys try is a blistering solo.

“Rollercoaster Ride” loops around a sensual bass line and deliberate drum pattern that is as close to Motown as these Europeans could hope to get, with Oye’s tasteful, jazzy guitar lending lilt. “Dead End” incorporates some of their electronic past into the thick, shoulder-shrugging mix, with pinging synthesizer sounds juxtaposed against a sound straight out of a 1970’s cartoon. “Keep A Secret” continues the album’s emphasis on beat, as Maschat’s hi-hat drives an otherwise unremarkable track. “Intentions,” “High On The Heels” – one after another, the tracks showcase the band’s comfort zone. They’re hardly daring in their performance, focusing, through will or inability, on flighty, laid-back creations of sterilized soul.

There’s plenty in a name here. The Whitest Boy Alive don’t necessarily strive to be as funky as their influences, and something tells me they couldn’t wring such gritty sounds out of themselves if they tried. Their sound works because of their intention. When you cram their apparent affinity for funk, jazz, and worldly rhythms through the ultra-fine filter of their ungainly dorkiness, what comes out of the business end is an ultimately satisfying, curious form of eclectic soul music. This album won’t set a dance hall ablaze or impress legions of critics, but its existence isn’t hurting any ears. This is fun stuff for the sake of fun.

Hear samples for yourself at the above links!

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