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White Out with Jim O’Rourke and Thurston Moore Senso Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A record that requires – nay, demands – your attention.

Nadine McBay 2009

Not to be confused with Scottish Britpop flash-in-the-pan tykes Whiteout , White Out is Lin Culbertson and Tom Surgal, two fans of New York’s free jazz and no wave scenes who met at a Big Black gig at CBGB 20 years ago and have been journeying to the outer reaches ever since. 

They return to Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! Label for this, their fourth album, after stepping out with ATP Recordings for 2005’s China Is Near. Senso continues that record’s move away from jazzier structures towards abstraction, but whereas China Is Near featured six tracks of differing moods, here there are only two tracks, each filing a disc of its own. 

With Jim O’Rourke’s gurgling synths and Moore’s abused guitars swirling around the duo’s motley array of autoharps, analogue tricks and ghostly percussion, the four have created soundtrack that is part the hopeless burbling of a lost satellite and part the claustrophobia of mental collapse. Recorded in the sadly closed downtown improv hub Tonic on a winter night in 2004, the flesh-slashing guitars, percussive cackles and groans of white noise of the correctly titled Fear of Fear (of Fear) evoke psychosis and malevolence. Get in too deep and you’ll look in the mirror and see your face horribly distorted, or worse – Tonic becomes transformed into the dank, graffiti ‘n’ blood spattered final scene of the Blair Witch Project, the air cracking with trapped spirits and cackling devils.

Second disc, The Eyes the Mouth, offers relative respite, with snippets of forgotten 1960s psychedelic pop and blooping swanee whistles fluttering beneath guitar quasars and toxic feedback winds. In Spiritualism, ectoplasm would ooze from the facial membranes of mediums to be draped over spirits and The Eyes the Mouth is just as disturbing, and occasionally rather beautiful. 

Though a very different beast to Jim O’Rourke’s recent complex pop instrumental The Visitor, this is a record that requires – nay, demands – your attention and repeated listens. That you actually feel compelled to make return visits to so disturbing a place is testament to White Out’s four-headed, magnetic mind.

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