White Magic

Through the Sun Door

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Knowledge of Mira Billotte and Miggy Littleton's past and present work with Quix*o*tic, Ida, and Blood in the Wall offers little preparation for their work as two-thirds of White Magic. Their debut EP, Through the Sun Door, trades in the same kind of vaguely haunted folk-rock as their Drag City labelmates Faun Fables and Joanna Newsom, although White Magic is more diverse and immediate, and less precious, than either of those artists. Billotte's rich alto is even more striking in this setting than it was in Quix*o*tic, drawing comparisons ranging from Karen Dalton to Grace Slick to Beth Orton. There are also some similarities, both vocally and musically, to Cat Power (particularly on the shuffling "Don't Need") and Mary Timony's post-Helium work (especially on "One Note"), but White Magic avoids the Renaissance faire feel that often characterizes Timony's music. Billotte certainly knows how to use her dusky, husky, strikingly womanly voice: one of her favorite tricks is to switch abruptly from the lower register of her voice to the upper one, injecting more drama into tracks such as the aforementioned "One Note" and "The Gypsies Came Marching After." It's a commanding voice, particularly on White Magic's cover of "Plain Gold Ring," which holds its own against the versions by Nina Simone and Nick Cave. The group's original songwriting is also fairly commanding: "Keeping the Wolves from the Door" has a strangely timeless feel, while "The Apocalypse" delves into eerie rock, relating how easily the end of the world could come about and how "we all have a little heaven in ourselves." Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the simplicity of the band's guitar-piano-bass-drums arrangements, Through the Sun Door spans many moods, making it a strong debut from one of the better indie folk acts out there.

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