White Lies - Big TV | Album Review | By Volume

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White Lies

Big TV

If music were the Big Bang, Big TV acts as the residual white noise – it never ceases.

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Author: on August 22, 2013
August 12th, 2013

It would take years to list the comparisons that have been made to White Lies’ sound. Another in an ever-expanding list of bands with notably strong musical roots, critics never fail to aggressively rake through their record collection trying to find that similarity that nobody else had thought of. Thus, we’ve got more ‘sound-alikes’ than we bargained for, from claustro-pioneers Joy Division to anthemic arena pop in the mould of Pet Shop Boys. If one band can span and encompass such a vast chasm of styles in just two studio albums, they’ve got to be something seriously special. In all honesty, this cannot be said of White Lies, but with Big TV, their influences are left looking on in confusion, pondering: did we really pave the way for this?!

In short, a large percentage of the comparisons slathered upon White Lies are just sorry excuses for insight by a head-cracking new age of musical wannabe-Columbos. Armed with a guitar, a bass, drums, a baritone up front and a murky manner about them, they can’t not be a love letter to Ian Curtis, can they? Well, they aren’t. In fact that whole ‘zone’ of reincarnated moody post-punk (e.g. Interpol and Editors) is alien to White Lies. They lack the dryness, the tightness and the genuine melancholy, and as their first two albums showcased, instead opt for occupying big, big spaces. Don’t get me wrong; the derivative nature of their brand of stadium rock has always been evident; however, their newest effort is a step into somewhat uncharted territory for the band. If music were the Big Bang, Big TV acts as the residual white noise – it never ceases. From the opening title track to the dying embers of the record, Harry McVeigh’s vocals act as a kind of rumbling melodrama that sounds like it can be heard from the moon, encased in the gargantuan humming of drones and swirling shimmers which remain literally unbroken for the entirety of the album. Put simply, where previous efforts have been merely ‘large’, Big TV is a huge album, even by White Lies’ pseudo-1980s standards. The relentless sledgehammer of commotion has even managed to corrupt the invitingly plaintive nature of “Change”; its sweetness and earnest beauty mostly extinguished by an unpalatable barrage of near post-rock level synths. Buried under the weight of it all, you may struggle to remember that their début To Lose My Life… was at times concise and neat. It had those controlled power-chord stabs and keyboard riffs, flicking on and off with the efficiency of a light switch. Follow-up Ritual, while somewhat lacklustre, still made sure individual instruments were at least audible. Big TV simply sits back and chuckles as you strain your ears trying to make sense of the sonic mayhem it wreaks. Or rather, it would chuckle if it weren’t quite so po-faced.

In a clash of the omnipotent vs. the inconsequential, the intense and cosmic racket of Big TV is partnered with lyrics mostly concerning the nuanced troubles of some ‘everyman’ figure; “I’ve got a room downtown with a bed and a big TV” echoes from within the belly of the aforementioned title track, and the oblique metaphor “I wish no harm to come of you, split bottles in shopping aisles” opens the unfortunately indifferent “Be Your Man”. In fact, the two sides of the coin create a perplexing rollercoaster of sorts, whereby one can be stuck with head in the aural clouds for one moment, and be brought down to menial trivialities in an instant the next. Yet the most telling lyric sits in “Tricky to Love”: “My heart [is] red imitation leather”. While the track has an intriguing twang of style to it (similar to Duran Duran in a spacious crypt) that line says it all. While spirited and sincere, Big TV seriously lacks soul. It has almost no pulse, almost no vitality and very little warmth, both in style and substance, even if its trial-and-error soundscapes are awfully pretty at times (see both interludes and the lush “First Time Caller”). Its harmonic construction is promising and it’s excitingly big and suitably bold, but its sound is just too suffocatingly frigid and alienating for any real emotional reward here. In short, it’s no wonder there’s a bloody spaceman on the cover.

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