The White Elephant
The White Elephant (“Fly”)
The history of distortion effects on guitars dates back to what is usually considered the first rock and roll song, “Rocket 88.” Distortion was accidentally introduced by the guitarist Willie Kizart’s—of Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm—broken amplifier. Guitar distortion has come a long way since that fateful 1951 recording—becoming an essential part of electric guitar music and for many artists a signature sound.
Chris Rohr of the Wapello band of brothers The White Elephant brings his signature fuzz distortion back for their second album. Also titled The White Elephant, it is referred to as The Fly Album due to the album art. The band says that giving an album a title is harder than it appears, so they choose not to name theirs.
Where the first album rode the wave of the low-fi blues of bands like The Black Keys, the second album shows the band starting to veer away from those shores. Extra effort spent on the production by local legend Tom Tatman has this album revisiting a classic wall-of-distortion ‘90s sound, at times riminiscent of Dinosaur Jr.
Along with this evolution in sound, the band is also stretching its songwriting chops. A standout song on the album “Airplanes” shows that the band is willing to break things down and ride a fuzzy psych vibe similar to The Doors’ “Moonlight Drive.” With circular repetition and droning rhythm, it feels almost influenced by an eastern folk tradition with it’s complement of sympathetic open notes. Rohr boards a plane with an unclear destination, but he’s fixated on the flight. Even though he says “on a trip, a first class trip” he also confesses that he’s “flyin’ the sky to nowhere.” This song leaves me wanting to hear the band exploring more songs with similarly non-traditional structure.
Fly is an album that shows The White Elephant is evolving as a band, but continuing to embrace the time-proven tradition of using guitars pushed to the edge of feedback to provide an ample canvas on which to create.
Michael Roeder is a self-proclaimed “music savant.” When he’s not writing for Little Village he blogs at www.playbsides.com.