Release Date: Apr 1, 2014
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
White Hinterland, the vehicle for songwriter Casey Dienel's winding, often piano-based compositions, reached many ears for the first time with her second album, 2010's Kairos. That album presented Dienel's songs blanketed in dense atmospherics and languid dreaminess, making an already smooth listening experience even easier to digest. Baby, White Hinterland's third full-length, comes from a completely different place, one more jagged and pained but ultimately much more satisfying.
No matter how you cut it, White Hinterland’s Casey Dienel has one of the most arresting voices in modern music. The music she crafts to showcase it is sublime – she’s drawn comparisons to Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, which shows you the amount of love she’s drawing from people who must have been sleeping since 4AD’s glory days. Well, they’re awake now, and Baby is sure to satisfy, beguile and entrance anyone who loved this kind of music the first time it came around.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. On previous outings White Hinterland's music has sounded similar to what the moniker suggests. The arrangements were fairly sparse, clean and clear, allowing Casey Dienel's vocals to be crisply audible against this stark background, like a lone figure on a pristine white background that the moniker suggests.
White Hinterland, the solo project of vocalist Casey Dienel, is a study in texture, space, and expanse, stretching R&B-laced pop to emotional extremes. Her last record, 2010’s Kairos, was woozy both instrumentally and conceptually, leaning toward gossamer dream pop. Baby, her newest, sheds the downtempo beats of Kairos, experimenting with more jagged percussion and orchestral flourishes, notably horns.
It’s become fairly on-trend for female indie artists with birthdates in the 1980s – Banks, say – to namecheck their influences as Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and the rest of that cuddly, big-sweatered, early-’90s pop-radio R&B crowd. Yet for all that hip talk, few seem to show much evidence of it in their music, which is why Casey Dienel seems to be on to something here. Three albums in, her White Hinterland project has moved from a competent, slightly dry triangulation of Björk and Sia into something warm-blooded, rich and at ease with itself.
Pop and indie rock continue to consume each other as the millennium progresses, and Casey Dienel has positioned White Hinterland uniquely between the two, slowly migrating away from her earlier jazz inclinations (although they certainly still permeate her melodic sensibility and ambitious songwriting). If 2010's Kairos was obscured in folds of ghostly dream-pop, Baby bares it all, fully absorbing R&B, gospel, and pop influences, taking a further step into the arena of the melisma-inflected popstress. Dienel also handled production this time around, crafting a fractured, distorted, and thumping sound to pair with her heady progressions and melodies.
Massachuset ts native Casey Dienel's first two albums as White Hinterland swerved from cabaret-style ballads to R&B-flavored electro and back again. Her latest follows a similar pattern, but Dienel's considerable vocal skills hold it all together: She's got a Mary Poppins-size bag of tricks, singing in operatic quivers, howling yelps, haunting harmonic layers and even full-on vocal fry without showing any seams. Through slow piano numbers ("David") and bluesy, experimental cuts ("White Noise"), Dienel's vocal acrobatics stay riveting – the musical equivalent of pulling a floor lamp out of a handbag.
In 2006 Casey Dienel, singer-songwriter, released her debut album Wind-Up Canary, a collection of piano-based, occasionally old-timey, somewhat Joni Mitchell-ish, clever, whimsical, relatively straightforward pop/folk songs. A couple years later, Dienel wiped away that direction, subsumed it into White Hinterland, a group that put a purposely ‘artistic’ spin on it, threw in overt attempts at R&B (presaging the current trend) and a vaguely world-music-in the-future vibe (a teaspoon of Animal Collective). The music sometimes captured a very unique feeling, and sometimes seemed scattershot.
How does one go about ‘deconstructing’ pop? Is that what Lorde did last year, in delivering a record as polished as it was minimalist? I might as well mention her name this early, because reviews of White Hinterland’s Baby are bound to draw the fairly obvious comparison between Casey Dienel and her much younger Kiwi counterpart. There’s plenty more than that, though, to the Massachusetts native’s theatrical sound, something that she was clearly still in the process of exploring on 2010’s Kairos. Given how freely she seems to have flitted between projects throughout the course of her career to date, it’s perhaps not totally surprising that it’s taken Dienel quite this long to reconnect with her Hinterland collaborator, Shawn Creeden.
Scituate native Casey Dienel’s third album under the White Hinterland moniker seems to construct itself as it goes, incrementally expanding from the bits and scraps of piano and multi-layered unaccompanied vocals of opener “Wait Until Dark” and culminating in the rollicking, if skewed, roll of penultimate track “Sickle No Sword. ” That creates forward momentum, even when the songs are so busy turning themselves inside-out that they barely move. When she’s not busy recalling tUnE-yArDs (“White Noise”), Haim (“Ring the Bell”), Carole King (“Live With You”), or “Sensual World”/“Red Shoes”-era Kate Bush (“David”), Dienel wrests tension between the fervency of R&B and the harshness of her studio-chopped arrangements, though she tends to tip toward the latter.
When it comes to White Hinterland (aka Massachusetts songwriter Casey Dienel), it's all about one thing: the dramatic voice that swoops and soars all over her impressive register. Those arresting vocals are front and centre on Dienel's third album, which ties together indie trends and 90s R&B influences in a savvy embodiment of the current pop landscape. One minute she's channelling Fiona Apple with moody solo piano epics (Wait Until Dark, David), then getting her Beyoncé on in the next, trilling over glitchy beats.