Editors' pick

White Wives

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Editorial Review

Album review: "Happeners"

They're "just middle-American kids searching for the truth," White Wives announces on its debut album, "Happeners." That search is complicated: The lyric sheet features 28 footnotes, explaining references to Jack Kerouac, "The Little Prince" and radical European art and political groups. But all this alt-culture erudition feeds stirring, singalong rock that doesn't sound at all academic.

The Pittsburgh sextet has its roots in several Pennsylvania neo-punk bands, the best known of which is Anti-Flag. Rather than break with that ancestry, "Happeners" energetically expands on it. Parade-ground beats and shouted vocals recall Britain's class of 1977 and its many American followers. But the Wives' songs are longer and the arrangements more complicated, with the communal "whoa-ohhs" supplemented by piano and pedal steel.

Some songs are introduced by audio clips that evoke mid-20th-century U.S. culture, from housewife-oriented marketing to the H-bomb. Yet "Happeners" doesn't feel like a sociology lecture. Such songs as "Hungry Ghosts" are far from detached. "We are, we are / The hungry ghosts," the band roars, while the rat-a-tat drums and clashing dual guitars bristle with life.

--Mark Jenkins, Dec. 16, 2011