Norway's White Willow have been around for some time now, having formed back in the early nineties. However, I've only ever fleetingly encountered their music so, when 'Future Hopes' turned up for review, their first album for six years, and the band's seventh to date, it afforded me the perfect opportunity to get to grips with just what these Scandinavians have to offer. With 'Band Interests' on their Facebook profile stated as "breaking up, taking breaks, reconvening", it implies that White Willow are something of a laidback outfit; only working on new music when they feel like the creative impetus and will is there to do so; rather than churning out material just for the sake of. It would certainly explain the big gaps between some of their album releases, including the long wait for this latest one, 'Future Hopes'.
Well, it seems I'm not far wrong with my laidback assertion, as that's precisely the musical aesthetic around which White Willow have crafted their songs. A gently introspective, wistfully reflective and ethereally immersive antidote to all the madness in the world, this is an album that provides you with the sonic space within which to forget your woes. Even songs' sporadic heavier parts, where distorted guitar chords resonant forth, sound wholly embedded and at one with the album's overall absorbingly serene affects. There are soulfully meditative, calming affects in White Willow's music, from entrancing melodies, to the unhurried way in which their songs reveal themselves in their own time and space. I felt thoroughly relaxed after listening to this. There's definitely cathartic potential here, for those who allow the music's emotions to seep into their being, and work their naturally narcotic magic; expurgating any sense of negativity. At least, that's the affect it had on me.
The production has given the songs a kind of cloudy and hazy facade... although it is just a facade. Listening below the surface, there is clarity in the instrumentations, but with a layer of haze. I regard this as very much a plus point, rather than a negative judgement, as it adds to the music's dreamy, mesmeric aesthetic. And dreamy, mesmeric music is as good a description as I can conjure up here. It'd be misleading and fallacious to try and apply any kind of genre labels to 'Future Hopes'. Well, it does have certain genre affiliations. The album artwork's even hints at such, which itself looks like its straight out of the 1970s. That's not surprising, considering the artist responsible for this provocative piece is Roger Dean; the man who's known for his art that adorns the covers of many a Yes, Asia and Uriah Heep album cover. The music has some psychedelic flavours, as promised by the cover art, and some undeniable prog rock elements from a time past, particularly with the retro synth sounds. However, songs never dwell solely in retro pastiche; rather, this also has a contemporary feeling and, more importantly, a timeless essence. A well-posited and integrated smattering of electronic elements help propel White Willow's prog pastiche into the twenty first century although, ultimately, this is music that transcends its own time. The album will sound as relevant, timeless, and beautiful in decades to come, as much as it does now.
The musicianship is great, too. In particular, the drumming throughout the album is magnificent. There are some nice fills and free-flowing, occasionally jazzy, patterns that ride the emotions of the music, rather than just existing as a rhythmic backbone. The synth work is fantastic, and the guitar leads have a Gilmour-esque beauty about them. I gather guest guitarist Hedvig Mollestad is responsible for many of the solos, according to press blurb. And then there are the vocals, courtesy of newcomer Venke Knutson. Just sublime. Hypnotic and angelic, this is a voice that truly earns the label "ethereal". Her singing is transcendently beautiful.
Well, I have to say, after listening to 'Future Hopes', I'm now very much a White Willow convert. There's so much to recommend here, and even their cover of 'Animal Magnetism' that's thrown in as a bonus track has been reinvented and moulded to White Willow's own aesthetic. Fantastic stuff!
Review by Mark Holmes
31st March 2017
1) Future Hopes
2) Silver and Gold
3) In Dim Days
4) Where There Was Sea There Is Abyss
5) A Scarred View
6) Animal Magnetism
7) Damnation Valley
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"A gently introspective, wistfully reflective and ethereally immersive antidote to all the madness in the world, this is an album that provides you with the sonic space within which to forget your woes."