Kewanna, Indiana - Population 613, as of the 2010 census, roughly 72 miles west of Fort Wayne and 100 miles north of Indianapolis. If these are the biggest, and closest, map reference points, there's a whole fat lot of nothing going on in these hinterlands. Look it up on Google, and you'll see a picture of a gas station, a lone wooden house with no neighbors and a bunch of snow.
You'd be forgiven for assuming that you're only likely to find honky-tonk, bluegrass, gospel and folk from these remote rolling fields. You wouldn't expect to find a great, sharp, stylish indie pop outfit like Smooth White.
Smooth White is bucking the conventions of their home town by trading in sounds other than the regional country radio and the occasional metal show. Rather than conforming to where they come from, Smooth White showcase slick, razor-sharp songwriting - all clean, chiming guitars and powerful drums, which serve as a powerful V8 for Hank Gamble's warm, burr-like vocals to crest and soar.
Rose is a short, solid, three-track affair - the perfect way to get to know Smooth White's sound. "Rose" comes on like a pulsing meditation, shot through with arty, experimental guitar harmonics. The hypnotic pulse breaks through into a great, classic backbeat chorus as if the Arctic Monkeys quickly shed their suits to become The Beatles and then changing back just as quickly.
"Oblivion" is powerful, anthemic indie pop, like Bruce Springsteen if he was coming of age now and had a better haircut. Just like "Rose," "Oblivion" breaks up the formula with quick, stuttering guitar hooks, showing, yet again, that Smooth White is full of interesting musical ideas and strong songwriting instincts.
"Old" closes out this short, great debut EP. Again, Gamble's guitar starts off with a choppy, hypnotic 8th-note pulse, gradually building to a snarling intensity, before falling into a catchy, descending riff that will stick in your head for days.
It is unlikely that Rose would've existed ten years ago, before high-speed Internet made all of the world's music available to everybody. To break the fourth wall for a moment, I hail from Indiana originally. Although I "lived" in the suburban hellhole sprawl outside of Chicago, my family all hails from these Indiana backwoods and I've spent countless hours in these one-stoplight towns. The last time I spent any amount of time in that area, I was still getting bow hunters in pick-ups rolling up ominously to ask me "You're not from around here, are you?" The presence of sharp, smart indie rock in one of these places is, frankly, a miracle.
Smooth White exists as a conscious counterpoint to the mainstream country radio rock of their birthplace, and good for them for doing their own thing! They're already playing successful shows around the Midwest, as far north as Chicago or Kalamazoo, MI. Here's to hoping they keep at it, someone hears their stuff, and they can move somewhere half decent.
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