Album Review: White Lung—”Deep Fantasy”

By James Li

When Myszka “Mish” Way isn’t singing for Vancouver punk band White Lung, she writes for publications such as Vice, Noisey, and The Talkhouse. Half of the time, she writes about music, singing the praises of an eclectic range of artists, from The Knife, to Charli XCX, to Lil Ugly Mane. The other half of the time, she writes about gender and sexuality. She even wrote a sex advice column, but she’s not exactly a Cosmo writer: those who would even think of taking advantage of women better not get in the way of her and a pair of kitchen scissors.

When Mish Way is singing for White Lung, she spits venom, and she sounds more furious than ever on their third album, Deep Fantasy. White Lung’s punk aggression, paired with Way’s piercing vocals and feminist politics, invites comparisons to classic riot grrrl bands like Hole or L7 from critics. While Way is quite vocal about her admiration for icons like Courtney Love, these comparisons do not do White Lung justice. Riot grrrl was a pretty short-lived and geographically limited scene and, well, White Lung isn’t from Olympia, Washington and it’s not 1992 anymore. If White Lung resembles any riot grrrl band on Deep Fantasy, it’s Sleater-Kinney, another power trio without a bassist. Whereas Sleater-Kinney rely on Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s clashing vocals and guitars, White Lung have a more singular sound, with Way’s vocals and Kenneth William’s guitar at the forefront.

Album artwork of Deep Fantasy

Album artwork of Deep Fantasy

White Lung draws deeply from the tradition of punk, but in 2014, punk rock can be a stylistic dead end without a little innovation. White Lung’s Canadian peers have taken to tampering with the basic punk formula – Toronto’s Fucked Up stretches it out to epic lengths with concept albums and rock operas, and Montreal’s Ought speak-sing wordy manifestos over angular riffs. White Lung’s sound is more barebones in comparison, favouring speed and extremity – Deep Fantasy packs ten songs into the span of 22 minutes.

White Lung does not stray far from the punk blueprint compared to some of their counterparts, but they still sound fresh. Part of this owes to the instrumentation: Anne-Marie Vassiliou’s drumming is usually unfussy on Deep Fantasy but she can thrash at a dizzying pace, while Kenneth William proves himself as one of the most unique guitarists in punk on Deep Fantasy – you can hear strains of The Smiths, Dead Kennedys, Wipers, and Slayer in his highly precise fretwork.

But White Lung also has a great sense of melody. There are only ten songs on Deep Fantasy, but they’re all catchy, whether they are thrashers like “I Believe You” and “Sycophant” or relatively slower (but still very fast) and more contemplative (but still very pissed-off) songs like “Snake Jaw” and “Face Down.” Other punk bands shroud their sound with distortion, but the production on Deep Fantasy is crystal clear, letting the vocals and instrumentation speak for themselves.

But it is Mish Way’s presence as a frontwoman that makes Deep Fantasy a compelling listen. Her voice rises above the fray on Deep Fantasy, and commands the listener’s attention. Although White Lung is not an explicitly political band, Way’s lyrics discuss issues that enrage feminists, but should really piss anyone off. “Down It Goes,” for example, is a takedown of rape culture. Mish Way opens the song by admitting that she’s “not as strong as you.” Not like it matters – the track includes references to poisoning someone’s water, effectively inverting a date rape scenario. “I Believe You,” the fastest and heaviest track on Deep Fantasy is a show of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. “Snake Jaw” is one of the best songs that tackles bodily dysmorphia (shouts out to Sonic Youth and Manic Street Preachers), as Way confronts the pressure that women face to be thinner and prettier: “I hide in this body!”

Way’s singing is often too fast and harsh to catch everything she’s singing. But it’s not so much what she is singing so much as how she is singing it. She delivers her lyrics with so much passion and conviction that you feel the impact of her words before you fully decipher them. White Lung is one of the most exciting bands in punk rock today, and Deep Fantasy, a 22-minute sonic assault in ten bursts, is a testament to that. (Domino)

Listen: “Face Down”

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