Whirlwind Heat – Types of Wood

2 out of 5

Label: Brille

Produced by: Craig Long, Kirt Shearer (engineered by)

Fussing around in the no-wave scene, Whirldwind Heat’s Jack White-produced debut burst through the White Stripes’ leader’s tendencies and stuck to their sludgey roots, landing on a sound that crossed eff-off rock with who-the-eff-cares punk and artsy abandon. Followup EP Flamingo Honey wasn’t a swerve, but kept the mentality alive, making sure one couldn’t just classify them as coattail hanger-ons. Types of Wood isn’t out of line with any of this, but it brings in the influence of tourmate Beck to go way towards pop, and while I cannot deny a memorable bop is found on every track hereon, the approach makes the stuff seem incredibly empty-headed, to the point of annoyance. I can’t not cringe when the group’s reciting the alphabet on The Sun Is Round; or just sort of stare blankly during the sperm-donor tale of Gene Pool Style, losing the thread as to whether the band is still being playful, or is aiming for nonsensical, or actually has a point. And again, this mixed message (or lack of message) certainly isn’t out of line with where they started, but marrying it to bass-heavy, rather predictable sing-song tunes is, I dunno, either a version of a prank that would be funnier if we got an album after this to juxtapose it with, or one that I can appreciate, but don’t necessarily ever have much desire to listen to, outside of a couple of choice singles.

I guess that’s where I get confused: opener Air Miami is the bait, going fuzzy bass and punky, and then followup Reagan is like the new template – a perfect pop song with silly sweet lyrics, but told in a new, accessibly weird style. After that, they mostly drop the weird, and just get funky. Beck-y. And I know a lot of folks like Beck, but I don’t know if I’m one of them.

Every song is catchy. There are elements here I dig, and the closing freakout after Nylon Heart – one of the better songs itself – again makes me wish we could’ve seen where things went from here, but working out the balance between “old” and “new” Whirlwind Heat resulted in a final album I smile at for its goofiness, but also scowl out for crossing some imagined line between smart nonsense and just kinda nonsense.