Tear up your bedroom long enough and you’re bound to find something that really takes you back. Maybe it’s an ironic postcard? Or a creased ticket stub? Or a crumpled strip from that photo booth in Austin? Whatever it is, and however old you are, that token item will likely enlighten your subconsciousness in a way that simply closing your eyes never would. We need these things in life; it’s one of the strongest arguments against John Lennon’s idea of “no possessions.” Tangible objects hold so many feelings and emotions that our brain just can’t convey at any given moment. That’s why in, oh, 10 or 15 years, the Kentucky boys of White Reaper will likely clutch their debut album, White Reaper Does It Again, with baited breath. After all, don’t you remember when you were a frustrated and confused 20-something?
Apologies to those that are still of age, but as a cynical 30-something, I can’t help but feel that this album will mean a lot more to this band decades from now than it does today. For 12 tracks, guitarist and singer Tony Esposito goes on and on and on about some nameless girl (possibly “Sheila”?) who’s just as emotionally fucked as he is, suffering from the nagging claustrophobia (“Make Me Wanna Die”), self-fulfilling prophecies (“On Your Mind”), hungry isolation (“Alone Tonight”), superstitions (“Friday the 13th”), and speculative what-ifs (“Wolf Trap Hotel”) that poison young love. It’s an era when the world feels both endless and small, when time goes on forever and stops too soon, when love feels confidently sure and achingly indefinite. In other words, it’s an exhaustive slog, fueled by whispers of promise and crushed by the drunken doubt that goes with every decision. As Esposito sings on “Candy”, “What fun is life babe, unless it’s too short?”
You’ve heard this album over the years. They’ve heard this album over the years. Yet what allows White Reaper Does It Again to bubble towards the surface is how the band’s energy matches their time-sensitive nerves. This is an album that demands to be called what film critics love to dub actions films: It’s a “high octane thrill ride,” one that absolutely and positively gives zero fucks whether you can keep up. Because of this adrenalized pace, the band’s throwback rock ‘n’ roll takes on a unique role, one that seems to breathe and hammer away with the frantic willpower of a would-be 20-year-old, still suffering from all the itises they’ve read about or experienced as teenagers. On paper, the album reads like an angsty LiveJournal, and that metaphor works musically, too, as the band innately references what they might have been listening to, whether it’s dusty Pebbles compilations, reckless UK power pop, or fuzzy ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.
Much of this success stems from the fact that the Louisville lovers, rounded out by keyboardist Ryan Hater, bassist Sam Wilkerson, and drummer Nick Wilkerson, truly know how to nail the three things that make the most fundamental rock ‘n’ roll work: melody, hooks, and passion. Esposito’s a slacker hero behind the mic and the guitar (hear: two minutes into “Alone Tonight”), always sounding as if he’s hanging the roof of his mouth on boiling stage lights, while Wilkerson could probably tell Ginger Baker to fuck off and Ginger Baker might actually fuck off (hear: two minutes into “Alone Tonight”). But a lot of rock ‘n’ roll is about variables, and Hater is the outfit’s MVP on that accord, stocking so many songs with sugar-coated keys that shake, rattle, and roll, to borrow a cliche. He slips and slides on “I Don’t Think She Cares”, bobs around on “Pills”, and rivals Disasterpiece on “Friday the 13th” with spooky accents that match the track’s title. Son of a bitch, it’s fun.
Producer Kevin Ratterman captured the boys’ nuclear speed and plutonium chutzpah by indulging in some of the grimy fat while also keeping it from sounding like a shitty four-track recording, which makes for an album that blends rather seamlessly with the group’s fiery six-track debut EP. Having caught the quartet last summer, while they toured with the equally riotous axemen of Diarrhea Planet, I was won over by how they could make a 25-minute opening set feel like 10 seconds. They never stopped and they never slowed down — they just were. Few acts ever manage to bottle up that crude energy on record — sorry, Palma Violets — and yet White Reaper Does It Again brims with spit and sweat. It’s an essential artifact for White Reaper, sure, but hopefully one that sticks around our bedrooms for the next 10 years, too.
Essential Tracks: “Make Me Wanna Die”, “Alone Tonight”, and “Friday the 13th”