White Willow, Future Hopes

by Rick Krueger

The only White Willow album I’d heard before their new effort was 2011’s doomy Terminal Twilight.  Gorgeous, Gothic stuff, but it didn’t leap out at me as anything special.  Future Hopes, however, is a gripping album, unpretentious in presentation (Roger Dean cover notwithstanding) but wonderfully ambitious in scope and sonics.  It starts in darkness, then doggedly journeys toward the light — and it carried me along from beginning to end.

The musical vibe here is that of a brand new Tangerine Dream/Vangelis movie score, laced with hefty doses of U.K. and Buggles, courtesy of Jacob Holm-Lupo’s vintage Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer.   The beefy drumming of Anglagard founder Matthias Olson keeps the forward motion going; Ketil Venstrum Einarsen (flute & wind controlled synth) and Kjersti Laken (trumpet) provide rich colors that complement and contrast with the bed of keyboards; and guitarist Hedvig Mollestad, best known for her power trio albums on Rune Grammofon, lays down absolutely brilliant solo work for the epics “In Dim Days” and “A Scarred View.”  “Silver&Gold” even provides an evocative Celtic-folk interlude, though Holm-Lupo drops in enough synth & drum machine oddness to keep it non-generic.

New vocalist Venke Knutson provides another key feature of Future Hopes’ appeal.  Where Terminal Twilight’s Sylvia Erichsen stood, delivered and dragged you into the music with her operatic intensity, Knutson’s leaner, more ethereal voice is an enticing, slightly eerie invitation for the listener to lean in.  Her gentler style complements the lyrical narrative, moving from hopelessness (the title track), through glimmers of possibility (“Silver&Gold,” “In Dim Days”), finally arriving at a hard-won peace (“A Scarred View”).

Still, the moment of purest fun on this album comes after the narrative is done: a mischievous cover of the Scorpions’ “Animal Magnetism,” taken at a glacial pace, beefed up with T-Dream sequences, edgily sung by Knutson, and topped off with David Krakauer’s utterly bonkers clarinet solo.  (Think Ornette Coleman playing klezmer with his soul on the line, and you might get the picture.)  After the heavy subject matter of most of Future Hopes, it’s reassuring to know that Holm-Lupo and company can blow off steam with a wink and a nod to an influence they obviously love.

This album is already on my “best of 2017” shelf. Check it out at Bandcamp!

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