Recently, there seems to have been a lot of activity within the Arts & Crafts / Broken Social Scene camp. Sometime contributor Gentleman Reg made his A&C debut, and has received critical adulation. BSS satellite, Metric, released their latest, highly anticipated album to similar praise. The recent news of Broken Social Scene finally working on their anticipated new album is only the icing on the proverbial cake. And yet, what is remarkable about this family / collective is not the sheer quantity of output, nor really the overwhelming amounts of talent. Instead, what sets them apart is the diversity of each offshoot, combined with the chemistry they all exhibit when together again. There aren’t a whole lot of comparisons I can make here, as examples of other music collectives range from very few to none, but I think you get the idea.
One of the more varied and talented members of BSS, maybe not as glamorous as Feist, Amy Millan or Emily Haines, nor perhaps as recognizable as Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning or Jason Collett, is lead guitarist Andrew Whiteman. After seeing Whiteman play at 2007’s SXSW, I can easily say, however, that he is the most captivating member. With his own project, Apostle of Hustle, Whiteman is a whirling dervish of varied rock and folk styles. In fact, he’s a virtual NAFTA unto himself (except replacing Mexico with other Latin American countries). The music of Cuba penetrated his soul after a two-month stay, and it has infected his repertoire over the subsequent years. Folkloric Feel and National Anthem of Nowhere quickly became critical favorites, if slightly less popular than their more pop oriented BSS cousins.
Eats Darkness is another memorable effort from Whiteman and company, and one that takes a few more left turns. Whereas their earlier two efforts can be classified as straightforward albums, in terms of format, Darkness would have to be considered differently. Upon first glance, it would seem that a healthy and robust 13 songs populated the album, but five of those are little act breaks or vignettes, the likes of which might appear on a late ’80s era hip-hop record. Recorded dialogue, sound effects and samples are meticulously put together to paint a picture, one that Whiteman himself calls, “a serial poem about some struggles people go through.” These short, yet powerful and memorable mini-tracks only serve to make the album stronger as a whole, adding more oomph to the eight remaining proper musical compositions.
The hip-hop analogy doesn’t stop there. After a slice of street life in the opening mini drama, “Snakes,” complete with the sound of automatic gunfire, Whiteman launches into the tense and agitated, “Eazy Speaks.” It’s been said that the song is a supposed tribute to a “deceased poet in L.A.,” and the dark imagery of the lyrics tend to support that he’s most likely singing about former N.W.A. member, Eazy-E. “I drink rain and piss out acid,” is one of the more illuminating lines, paying homage to the braggadocio and toughness of the genre. Standout “Soul Unwind” starts out with the same kind of anxiousness of sound, but then leads into the infectiously repeated title sung with soothing male and female vocals. “Perfect Fit” and “Xerses” [sic] (not sure if that’s a typo of the Pharaoh Xerxes) exhibit an interesting progression from Whiteman’s typical Latin flavored tracks, with the former bass and dub heavy, with processed vocals. The latter is definitely more pop flavored, which contrasts nicely with the slightly less optimistic lyrics of “no friends and no cash.” The closing songs on Eats Darkness find Whiteman back in his early element, displaying his incredible skill with the guitar, as he does on the title track and “How to Defeat a More Powerful Enemy.”
When Apostle of Hustle started out, they would play Latin American folk songs, peppered with Tom Waits and Marc Ribot covers. Whiteman has continued to experiment as ably as Waits, as can be heard on Eats Darkness. There may be more studio techniques employed to interesting effect, but like Waits’ music, the core is still strong songwriting and musicianship. This may be an album with a `message,’ as Whiteman calls each song, “like tapas at the banquet of conflict,” but, like tapas, it can be enjoyed in a group setting, or individually. I think I’ll have mine with a glass of red wine. I am pleasantly surprised by every subsequent effort by Andrew Whiteman, whether with Apostle or BSS, showing incredible skill and fluidity with the guitar each time out. There is really only one drawback to Eats Darkness, and that is its puzzlingly bad album cover. Quack.