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What’s the Time Mr. Wolf? hits you straight off with two, perhaps not all that unique, rockers: “Don’t Give Up” and “Scratch Your Name.” Both are Zeppelin-rooted rock with vocals akin to Karen O’s energetic wail. They are good tracks, don’t get me wrong, but things get more interesting with “The Count of Monte Christo,” a finger-picked acoustic driven tune with a tambourine-laden, brushed drum groove behind it. The volume comes down but the guitar prowess still shines; Shingai Shoniwa’s vocals still have soul and power, and we get something a little more original than all that garage rock that’s been out there in the past five or so years since the Vines saved rock and roll (pfff yeah). “Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)” has verses so sprightly that their shuffle almost sneaks by unnoticed, but then startles with pounding rock and a tempo change in the chorus to great effect.
While the album is frontloaded with rockers and solid rockers they are, the later bit of the album shows off the trio’s talent more. “Mind the Gap” stays at lower volume for its majority, showing off Dan Smith’s guitar skills with a smooth jazz tone as he shadows the vocal melody line. The song’s meter changes around a bit and lands in 6/8 eventually, though it is often hidden behind hemiola patterns, showcasing drummer Jamie Morrison’s flexibility. “Cannot Even (Break Free)” shows Shoniwa’s ability to smooth things out with a Billie Holiday vocal style, adding in a little of her flair with squeaks and cracks. The effect of the band busting out of that groove with a plodding White Stripes style is increased by their holding back earlier on in the track. Closer “Hierarchy” never gets loud, but you won’t mind a bit.
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Do I need to mention that not only is the singer of the London-based Noisettes a bass-playing female, but also that she is of Zimbabwean descent? Is that a reason to listen to them? Shingai Shoniwa and her two white-dude bandmates will try to win you over sonically. In fact, forget I just said all that. But it is hard to ignore that our preferred genre is dominated almost completely by young white males. Every so often you find a white female, usually one of four or five bandmates, and bands with all females have to fight the shouts of ‘gimmick.’ Racial diversity is even less of a strongpoint. At least this ain’t modern country. Still, there is no need for special treatment for a band with a member like Shoniwa. She is a talented individual and an energetic frontwoman from what I gather, and her bandmates are no slouches either.
I really did have that paragraph first, but later decided that should be the last thing you read, after hearing about the music. Now, Mr. Wolf is an impressive debut full-length, but a lot of it sounds like you could have heard it before. Noisettes need to push the focus of their soft points and choose their loud rocking moments carefully; only then can they truly separate themselves from the pack for something aural and not visual.