White Wine make art-rock that is on one hand terrified of the modern world, and on the other launches itself into the future head first. Frontman Joe Haege describes the modern world as a place of “less empathy, more distraction, no focus, the digital preaching to the choir of social media and the endless ways in which technology digs deeper into our lives.” Meanwhile, Who Cares What the Laser Says? forms an ominous soundtrack to a dystopian future.
White Wine’s debut album has the epic scale and electronic drama of bands like Muse, as well as joining them in the world of sci-fi concept albums. However, the Leipzig-based group firmly reject the sense that Muse’s music creates; they throw away its formulaic, computer-generated rhythms and the lack of intimate feeling.
Instead, White Wine replace this with unpredictable, unsettling melodies and wriggling guitar riffs, underneath Fritz Büchner’s tense, emotionally fraught vocals. The lyrics are claustrophobically self-scathing (such as on ‘Bullet Points Like Swords’, with its paranoid yelps of “I’m a sick and narcissistic sycophant!”), yet also turn their sharp gaze towards the nightmarish world we’ve found ourselves in. ‘A Drink and 6 Lane Freeway’ performs this artfully with its critique of LA – where Haege lived before moving, disillusioned, to Europe. Its guitar twangs satirise classic Californian country ballads, while Büchner sings in strained tones criticisms of “collagen monsters”.
Perhaps the most significant fault of White Wine’s music is its lack of rest. Consumed as a whole, the album can feel like an exhausting barrage of sound pummelling its listeners, without leaving us a moment to breathe. There’s a lot to take in here, from psychedelic electronic soundscapes leaping into spinning, thumping bass lines – sometimes it’s all a little too much to digest.
None of this is to say the three-piece can’t do cheerful. The album’s closing track, ‘Relic On Fire’, climaxes with a rare moment of exuberance, built through a mix of over-excited drumming and synth-crossed xylophones – despite the fact that all this is overlaid with the refrain “terribly, terribly, terribly, terribly upset”.
This juxtaposition sums up Who Cares What the Laser Says?; it’s an album full of contrasts and contradictions. Its sounds vary wildly – from oboes to electronic bleeping to xylophones, and everything in between – all jumping about above an indecisive bass. There’s experimental and atmospheric soundscapes, combined with jarring vocal sections. Even the medium contradicts the message: White Wine express anxiety about the detrimental effects of our relationship with technology, yet their music (despite the raw sounds being created via analogue means) is mixed with a computer.
Above all, while Who Cares What the Laser Says? self-consciously kicks back against modern life, its sound is undeniably of the now.