Review: Typhoon – White Lighter

“White Lighter,” the new LP from Typhoon, is less an album and more a book written in song. The majority of the songs don’t follow the standard Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus/Outro and instead have more of a narrative structure; bits and pieces of one song appear in another, furthering the seamless transitions between movements. This  makes sense, as “White Lighter,” according to frontman Kyle Morton is  “a collection of seminal life moments, in more or less chronological order, glimpsed backwards in the pale light of certain death…” the seminal life moments are in fact Morton’s, whose bout with Lyme disease earlier in life caused several of his organs to fail, leaving him to face death before he’d barely lived. “Mine was a puberty with a vengeance,” Morton writes.

From these words, one would expect this album to be dreadfully dreary, spartan save for an acoustic guitar forever strumming minor chords and a voice that doesn’t so much sing as it does melodically mope. Yet “White Lighter” is anything but spartan or dreary; quite the opposite, it’s sweeping, lifting, a reflection on health and sickness, life and death that is, ultimately, life-affirming.

Approximately twelve musicians comprise Typhoon, playing everything from strings (violin and cello) to horns (trumpet and trombone) to drums (they have two drummers) to piano to guitars and bass. On past albums, such as 2010’s “Hunger and Thirst” and the 2011 EP “A New Kind of House,” these instruments complemented one another, but never quite worked in concert. “White Lighter” fully realizes the promise proposed by these previous albums, and then some. The orchestration is terrific, with all instruments blending perfectly, now ingredients of a single dish rather than several items on a plate.

At the center of this swirling, tornadic symphony is Morton’s pained, gripping voice. From his loudest bellow to his softest whisper, Morton always seems to be on the precipice of bursting forth, his voice a dam straining, barely containing the feelings and memories piled behind it. Voices, beyond just Morton’s, have always been a signature of Typhoon’s music, and their latest effort is no exception. On several songs, one of the female members sings parts of the song, acting as a counterpoint to Morton, while on others, the entire band lends their own voices to Morton, essentially playing the part of a Greek chorus. It’s these additional voices that further the story structure of “White Lighter.”

What’s more, “White Lighter” is new. Not just in the sense that it’s recently released, but that it, and thereby Typhoon, is wholly original musically; it resists typical genre classification. It has obvious hints of folk, but there’s also undeniable oriental influences in more than a few songs. It invokes Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, The Antlers, Neutral Milk Hotel, but also Beck, and even a bit of David Bowie. It’s personal, yet accessible, enormous but intimate.

And, it’s a triumph, one of the best complete albums to come out in some time. Typhoon gradually garnered a significant amount of hype for this album with every release of a single — first Common Sentiments, then Dreams of Cannibalism, and finally Young Fathers — and they’ve more than justified it. Expect “White Lighter” to escalate Typhoon into the next stratosphere of success, one which they’ve deserved for quite a while.

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