A Whisper in the Noise

As the Bluebird Sings

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Minneapolis' A Whisper in the Noise is the brainchild of singer/songwriter West Dylan Thordson, who grew up on a farm in rural Minnesota and now lives and composes in solitude in an abandoned small-town (Hanska, population 365) elementary school he attended as a child. The music he creates is as odd, atmospheric, and haunting as the hermitic environment in which it was conceived, with traditional rock instrumentation augmented by everything from violin and French horn to orchestral percussion and a children's choir. The band has an impressive résumé, with their first album produced by Steve Albini and U.K. tours with Shellac and Mogwai under their belt. In short, everything looks great on paper. But the problems on their sophomore LP begin right out of the gate, on the boozy waltz of "The Tale of Two Doves," which wouldn't sound out of place on Danny Elfman's soundtrack for Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. At the moment Thordson's voice cuts through the drunken saloon piano, gypsy violin, oom-pah horns, and distorted fuzz bass, you'll likely find yourself either loving or loathing him for his nasally atonal warble, penchant for monotone spoken word soliloquies, and gratingly agonized screams. The overall effect on songs like the title track, a hypnotic piano dirge, and the maddeningly mesmerizing "Hell's Half Acre" is undeniably compelling, especially when Thordson shares the vocal spotlight with violinist Sonja Larson. But for some listeners, Thordson's vocal presence will occasionally seem like more of an unwelcome intrusion that gets in the way of what are otherwise some really intriguing musical ideas.

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