Hardcore is what they're calling bands like the deftones these days -- a fitting name for that so-often-irritating blend of metal, rap, punk, and turntablism that has become the rage among teenage testosterone junkies over the past five years. Many music lovers would dismiss the whole genre as shite, and for about 90% of the records circulating today they would be essentially correct. Still, to do so would be to miss out on the handful of totally breathtaking albums that have been born of the style, the deftones' White Pony being one of the best. All stereotypes aside, for anybody who truly appreciates modern music to miss hearing this record would be a shame.
A major difference between this CD and its predecessors, and to an even larger degree its genre-mates, is the quality and intensity of producer Terry Date's work. The vast majority of hardcore has minimal, clean, sharply-defined studio sound that is (I'm assuming) supposed to be reminiscent of punk's traditional anti-production. White Pony takes exactly the opposite direction, with complex, multi-layered mixing which gives the deftones' overall sound a richness not often heard outside of progressive rock and commercial pop. Swirling above and below every song are shadows, textures, Eno-esqe currents of sound and echo. The seamless synergy of Stephen Carpenter's guitar and Chi Cheng's bass -- the two playing tightly enough to suggest a single instrument -- is compressed and reverb'd in just the right to make it push, to make it drive whole songs. Cutting through all of it, as always, is Chino Moreno's lead vocal, each and every syllable crystal clear.
Thematically, this album is more advanced than it's brethren as well. Adrenaline barely hung together at all, which is understandable for a first album and detracts not at all from its merit. Around the Fur was closer, following a nice up-and-down progression of sonic intensity, but lacked much connection between the songs themselves. White Pony, however, virtually has its own story arc: fear, lust, love, paranoia, escape, regret, rebirth; it's all in there, waiting to be unpacked from Chino's often-poetic words. Taken as a whole -- as the album should be, skipping tracks is bad mojo with respect to art -- it paints a bleak post-Gibson future, rife with violence and virus, the universal human constants of death and sex as present as they ever have been.
Here goes the track-by-track guide. Bear in mind that this is only my interpretation, and you should ideally form your own opinions about the album before you read it. If you're the type that hates spoilers with passion, stop reading this right now.
Feiticiera (3:09) starts off the album just right, with a very Around the Fur style guitar intro moving into a poetic vocal section. Feiticeira (note the difference in spelling) is google-translated Portuguese for witch, but seemed to be used more like the word succubus in the context of pages online. Due to Chino's lyric writing style there's some mystery regarding what the song is about until near the end, when a repeated chant of soon I'll let you go, soon I'll let you go makes it all crystal clear.
Next is Digital Bath (4:15), an almost polar opposite of the previous song, its intensity portrayed through sweet, long sung notes over Abe Cunningham's slow drum beat. Anticipation is the name of the game here: musically, even the heavy guitar parts seem like an intro for something bigger yet to come; thematically it seems to be about bathing platonically with somebody you want, which Chino sums up perfectly with the line tonight, I feel like more.
Without warning after the previous song's distorted guitar sustain outro comes the brutal noise of Elite (4:01). Easily the hardest thing on the album, and probably the hardest material since the latter tracks of Adrenaline, this song is shouted in Chino's perfect imitation of Psalm 69 era Ministry. Unlike most Ministry, though, the song's hook is so wicked you'd have to be in a coma not to at least nod along.
More so than on their other albums the deftones play the slow-fast-slow game like pros on White Pony, the abstract love song RX Queen (4:27) following Elite with honey and succor. Where standard love songs are about a strong relationship through life's temptations and petty hardships, this tune is about staying together as much for survival as anything else, defending each other when there is nobody else. If love cannot exist in a vacuum, then it must exist in a crisis. DJ Frank Delgado's strange electronic rhythm line and ambient texturing are present throughout the song, and carry it out alone in the last minute and a half.
Street Carp (2:41) follows, featuring a vocal line and melody that asks to be sung along with as much as anything on popular radio. Still, it's one of the weaker songs on the album, having little substance and some chanting that becomes -- gasp! -- rather annoying after a while.
Next is Teenager (3:20), another surprisingly soft song with a heavily distorted acoustic guitar (?) and digital percussion line. This song is lyrically very accessible; we've all felt the pain of watching somebody you love transform themself into somebody you don't. Like the man sez:
the more I scream
the more it seems
that now I'm through
with the new you.
The oddly spelled Knife Prty (4:48) comes in with a few bars of soft guitar, which explode into a few of well controlled loudness, and the two alternate throughout the song. About two thirds of the way in Chino starts showing off his vocal prowess with a falsetto improvisation with wider range and control than even Thom Yorke's. Beneath it is his voice again, overdubbed:
I could float here forever
anemic and sweet.
Korea (3:24) is a fairly standard song with respect to the rest of the album, probably something that was recorded for the album but probably not played live much. Even if it is filler it's still an order of magnitude better than most of the genre's output, with a gripping breakdown and bridge in roughly the middle.
Passenger (6:09) is (or so I've heard and read online) lot of people's favorite song, not only for its duet with Tool's Maynard James Keenan but for its own intrinsic beauty as well. The two singers fit together perfectly on their co-written lyrics, the singing of each verse traded off between them. Lyrically this is another deftones song about driving, perhaps something of a followup to Be Quiet and Drive from their previous album; this seems a subject the deftones are good at working with. It should also be noted that this is the next-to-longest song on the album, but has enough variation and interesting features to make its six minute length fit in snugly among the other, shorter songs.
Continuing to explore some of the same themes of transformation is Change (in the house of flies) (5:01), which as of 2002 is still the only single released off of White Pony (Update: I've found out that Back to School and Digital Bath have been made singles as well, in some areas). Not the best choice, I would say, but I guess since I don't work for Clear Channel Communications that doesn't matter. This song completes the cycle of power from the first track, instead of the victim these lyrics show the victor, exercising ultimate control over what he owns. And instead of watching somebody change into somebody unknown, this comes from the eyes of the changer, re-creating another exactly as he wants them to be.
On the final stretch comes Pink Maggit (7:38), what should probably be considered a drawn out remix of Back to School. Write this one off as the deftones' attempt at indie rock navel worship, and hold on tight for the next song.
Finally (at least on my version of the CD, see the writeups above), Back to School (4:15) comes in softly, with some of the only major-key sound on the entire album, for all of four bars. As the listener ought to expect by now, it proceeds to explode right back into meaty minor power chord goodness, a more than half rapped anthem of victory and new, cocky leadership. A more finished and polished version of Pink Maggit, this song serves as the perfect capstone to all of the album's themes, like the twenty-first chapter of A Clockwork Orange or that last film clip from Fight Club. DMCA issues notwithstanding, if your copy is missing this song, download it now and burn yourself a new one.