The Noisettes

What's the Time Mr. Wolf?

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They've been described as Billie Holiday fronting the White Stripes, and while that doesn't begin to do justice to the Noisettes' originality, it's not a bad way to start talking about their sound. On their striking full-length debut, What's the Time Mr. Wolf?, the band moves from revved-up arty garage rock to soul and jazz-tinged balladry -- sometimes during the course of one song -- like it's on rails. This might not be the most natural, or expected, combination of sounds on paper, but for most of the album, it works amazingly well. It would be easy to say that singer Shingai Shoniwa is the reason for the Noisettes' musical alchemy, and with good reason: she can sing and scream with the best of them, sounding effortlessly, coolly beautiful on "Hierarchy" and fiery and fearless on "Don't Give Up." However, the rest of the Noisettes have just as much range as Shoniwa, delivering the acoustic filigrees of "Count of Monte Christo" and radical gospel-punk of "Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)" with the same passion. What's the Time Mr. Wolf?'s best moments make the band's balancing act seem easy. "Scratch Your Name" and "Bridge to Canada" sound violent and hopeful, full of anthemic choruses and soaring harmonies; "Iwe" makes this approach fiercely romantic. On the album's more experimental second half, however, the band teeters a bit. Songs like the awkward "Mind the Gap" and "Cannot Even (Break Free)," which begins as smoky, hypnotic jazz and gets dangerously close to being tuneless and shrill, are more overwhelming than fascinating. Nevertheless, the Noisettes rarely let their ambitions get the better of them. Any band capable of fusing such divergent sounds and ideas so completely and compellingly is worth hearing -- and watching.

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