White Magic

Friday, 12 January 2007

Dat Rosa Mel Apibus, the title of Brooklyn-based White Magic’s anticipated debut long-player, is Latin for “The rose gives honey to the bees.” As singer and pianist Mira Billotte recently explained in an interview with The Village Voice, “To me, the rose is life, the path of life and consciousness, the Creator, and the bees are us. The honey is what we’re looking for, our fulfillment, finding our truth and place.” However, the album’s title functions equally well as a metaphor for the relationship between itself and the listener. If a cursory listen seems to suggest a band with a large canvas and limited color palette, find the time to give it another spin or two—the beauty of the record is in the way it gradually reveals subtle filigree with each listen.

Billotte has a low, keening moan, which will immediately garner comparisons to Cat Power’s Chan Marshall (not a bad comparison by any stretch), but where Marshall tapers off phrases with a smoky whisper, Billotte remains firm and throaty, as though singing to the mountains. More appropriate comparisons, both in terms of vocal timbre and overall vibrations, might be found in Nico’s Desertshore or C.O.B.’s Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart, which both share a certain arcane, Old Testament witchiness with Dat Rosa. Billotte, like Nico, has the ability to sing a major-key tune in a minor way, transforming her lyrically sparse compositions into starry-eyed incantations.

The instrumentation on Dat Rosa is spare, anchored by Billotte’s block piano chords and Doug Shaw’s wiry guitar figures. Although Billotte’s songs are well-served by the loping rhythms that the band favors, the most interesting moments occur when White Magic leaves their comfort zone, as on opening tune “The Light,” where a Tubby-styled drum echo syncopates the rhythm into something groovier than the sum of its parts. The band’s reading of trad-chestnut “Katie Cruel” is particularly effective, with Billotte delivering a lovely, nuanced vocal performance over crisp, interweaving acoustic guitars.

Dat Rosa Mel Apibus is a much different record on listen number ten than it was on listen number one, but therein lies its beauty. Who wants a record that you can digest in one sitting anyways? Actually, most people want that. White Magic is for the rest of us.

Dat Rosa Mel Apibus is out now.

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