It's a tempest in a teapot almost entirely forgotten now, but when Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville was first released, there was a fair amount of kerfluffle about the semi-naked woman in the Polaroid shots in the CD booklet, who turned out not to be Phair but a friend of hers. Similarly, singer/songwriter Carol Bui would like everyone to know that although there is a quite pretty drawing of a topless Asian-American woman on the cover of her second album, she wasn't the model. That's not the only point of comparison between Exile in Guyville (or PJ Harvey's Dry, or Rufus Wainwright's Poses, to name other examples) and Everyone Wore White: although it's entirely possible that Bui wrote these ten songs (plus an a cappella cover of a traditional Vietnamese folk song) in character voices other than her own -- that she's no more the woman in the songs than she is the woman on the cover -- there's an intimacy to her performances that suggests otherwise. There aren't just big themes on this album, there are Big Themes, from the many-layered symbolism of the album title (in opposition to its western connotations, white is a color of mourning in many Asian cultures, and then there's the whole "passing for white" concept as well) through to Bui's poetic, emotionally shaded lyrics. Musically, the album reminds listeners that Bui is based in Washington D.C., with all the post-rock angularity, sudden dynamic shifts, and full-on guitar noise assaults that implies. Although Bui's press kit names Hole as a key early influence, Mary Timony's similarly sweet-and-sour dissonance on the early Helium albums is a much closer musical fit to songs like the jittery, propulsive "The Year After." Combining the lyrical weightiness with the spiky post-rock vibes of the music makes Everyone Wore White the sort of album one takes in slowly, over the course of a few close listens, rather than absorbing all at once. Those willing to take the time will be amply rewarded.
Everyone Wore White Review
by Stewart Mason