Brooklyn-by-way-of-the-Midwest rockers White Rabbits have always sponged up their surroundings, putting their own spin on them and redistributing the ideas into the world for someone else to do the same. From their early days in Columbia, Missouri, to their 2009 Britt Daniel-produced full-length It’s Frightening, the quintet has consistently offered up enjoyable guitar- and piano-oriented indie rock in the most aesthetically accurate sense of that descriptor. Sometimes they sound similar to friends, tourmates and co-workers like The Walkmen and Spoon, but it’s hard to fault them when the material is so endlessly listenable.
From the very first track of Milk Famous, though, something feels different. Backwards, twisting sounds intermingle with some sort of mangled key part (Is that a sampled piano? A synth loop?), and a slinky bass leads the way straight to Stephen Patterson’s falsetto. Eventually the two dance side by side, then Patterson is shoved out of the way by a coup of unruly instrumentation, before the song ultimately fades out just as it started.
No, this isn’t the same White Rabbits; it’s a band breaking free of the shackles of its past. Reminders of their first few albums remain, like the riffy “I’m Not Me” and the confident, piano-led “Everyone Can’t be Confused,” but much of Milk Famous is planted in refreshing territory. Tracks like “Hold it to the Fire” and “Temporary” recall White Rabbits label mates Radiohead, and much of the album deals with subtlety previously unknown to the group’s catalog highlights like “Percussion Gun” and “The Plot.” Patterson lets slip the secret at one point, singing, “It’s not an awful sight/ Let your guard down.”