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Thomas White
Yalla! Ben Graham , March 21st, 2012 06:45

Following 2010's Rundgren-esque fusion of glam rock and blue-eyed soul, The Maximalist, White goes back to singer-songwriter basics on his latest solo album, which he could easily have titled The Minimalist; stripped down to just acoustic guitar and subtly multi-tracked vocals, the odd dappled synth line lifting it away from stark confessional to somewhere dreamier and more ambiguous.

Recorded during a holiday of sorts in Dahab, Egypt in the autumn of 2010, Yalla! , is a highly personal and introspective work that White didn't originally intend for commercial release. Written in the aftermath of both losing his mother and the end of a long-term relationship, it's suffused with a nostalgia and homesickness that also seems to represent a wider sense of loss and a yearning for ballast and security.

The melancholy folk-pop of 'All the Fallen Leaves' positively oozes autumnal ennui and bittersweet regret; the deceptively jaunty 'I'll see her Again' captures some of the wounded innocence of early Byrds or Simon and Garfunkel. 'That Heavy Sunshine Sound' reinforces this feel, of the point when Everly Brothers-influenced 1960s acoustic pop began to be darkened with darker, modal inflections and a discreet hashish fog weighted the vocal harmonies. Throughout, White's knack for sinuous melodies that never turn into obvious earworms, yet retain a classic tunefulness, is more apparent than ever thanks to the Spartan backing. Just as, lyrically, you can sense the conflict between guarded reticence and heart-on-sleeve intimacy, so the tunes often seem about to soar into anthemic choruses before pulling themselves back into a droning minor key; you can almost picture White with an angelic McCartney on one shoulder and a devilish Lennon on the other, each pulling and stretching at his rubber soul.

Still only 27, White was a mere 17 when Holes in the Wall, the debut album from the band he formed with his brother Alex, the Electric Soft Parade, was nominated for that year's Mercury Music Prize, and only 19 when BMG dropped them, following a whirlwind of international touring, unreasonable expectations and music industry politics. But both brothers were already veterans of the Brighton music scene, with three self-released albums under their belt as the Feltro Media before they evolved into the Electric Soft Parade, and it was arguably this sense of community, and the awareness that you'll always be able to make music, that kept them grounded and sane. Tom in particular has continued to be the Captain Manyhands of London-by-the-sea, switching between guitar, keyboards and drums for Brakes, Restlesslist and Clowns among others, plus helping out British Sea Power and Patrick Wolf when needed. With renewed interest in the Electric Soft Parade sparked by Noel Gallagher inviting them to open for his High Flying Birds in the UK and Europe, their fourth album is due later this year.

Brighton and its landmarks get many mentions on Yalla! , as indeed do many of Tom's personal friends, favourite pubs etc. If this sounds self-indulgent, then remember that White originally put this album out as a low-key free download, only agreeing to a full release when convinced of the timeless quality of its ten short, understated numbers. But for all the nostalgic references to English rain and provincial swimming baths, there's a lazy, sun-bleached feel to Yalla! that betrays its genesis on the beaches, bar tables and flat stone roofs of South Sinai. "he Bedouin girls are all looking at me," White mumbles on 'Ocean Green', which also includes the first of many dalliances with the idea of floating off into the Red Sea, never to return. 'Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls' and the rambling 'King of the Kingdom' feature the Beach Boys-via-Boo Radleys close high harmonisation that's an Electric Soft Parade trademark, but 'I've Seen the Sunrise' mixes in some geographical musical influences, with the sonorous wistfulness of a middle eastern folk song in its verses, albeit set against a more conventional western ballad chorus.

Troubled yet warm, defensive and guarded yet gently reaching out, Yalla! is a low-key landmark in White's on-going artistic evolution, taking stock before the next phase begins. Impressive as his achievements thus far have been, I feel that White has only begun to show us what he's capable of.

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