White Robot is a dark folk project featuring songwriter and guitarist Asher Cochláin and singer Amanda Joy. Curiously the two have never met in person. “We couldn’t live further apart on the continental United States,” states Asher. White Robot currently have two albums out, one of which is “The Belligerent North Star”. It’s a record that feels moody and melancholic only on the surface: hidden behind its cryptic exterior is a generous and rewarding collection of songs that represents a cohesive and affecting musical undertaking. It’s both selfish and generous: an entirely personal undertaking that completes itself with the listener’s complicity and comprehension. The record is relatively linear and clocks in a fast 20 minutes. This brevity bleeds tracks together which add more urgency to the record and greater weight to its conclusion.
Apart from Asher and Amanda, the understated instrumentation on various tracks is supported by Bob Peele on drums, Bogaert Frédéric on piano, Daniel Hauser on guitar and bass, Tracy Johnson on bass and vocals, and Cole Arn on vocals. In between the 9 tracks, you will also find a White Robot’s eloquently sturdy version of the Tom Waits song, “Clap Hands”.
In fact you’ll find it quickly, as it’s the second track in the collection. It comes right after the deliciously nuanced vocals of Amanda Joy on the opener, “Dark House”. It serves as a great introduction to the performance and songwriting skills of this project.
What sets White Robot apart from many of their contemporaries is the sheer substance and obvious depth of personal experience that has formulated each and every one of these songs down to the bone. How else would you describe the wistful beauty of “Paranoid Rose”.
Amanda’s voice is celestial and inviting, while Asher’s guitar snap, crackles and pops with delicate immediacy, blending into a sublime listening experience. “Broke His Body With a Rope” finds Cole Arn on lead vocals in a song that is more upbeat an urgent in its delivery, alongside Asher’s dynamically strummed acoustic guitar.
Cole Arn and Amanda Joy share vocal duties on “Banshee and a Farm Boy”, and the result is mellifluously transfixing. The gently picked guitar and rolling piano lines add an even deeper emotional trajectory to the tune. “James” is a fairly unique track.
The only lyrics being “James Earl Jones”, sung atop an ever-changing soundscape. There’s simply some magical ingredient, some obscure quality that makes this track so likable. “Go Go Heartless Horse” is another one of those magnetically eloquent musical performances which makes White Robot so captivating in their art.
Poignantly poetic and stunningly hypnotic, “Flame Of Grey” is almost cinematic in its approach. The imperative acoustic guitar work from Asher, and the delicate percussive trimmings from Bob Peele infuse a momentum that forms a shimmering, liquid platform for Amanda eerily float on. It succeeds in making something haunting and persuasively convincing.
I will leave “All Thorns Are Brothers”, as a surprise for you to discover. White Robot’s music is full of beautiful contradictions: sparse yet rich, forsaken yet full. The couplings of these contradictions provide the texture of the music, forming the core of its very soul.
Varied bursts of energetic strumming are juxtaposed with open spaces of gentle picking and repeated echoes of propagating melody. The most subtle incorporation of percussion, piano, and bass transforms White Robot’s music from the quiet afterthought that characterizes much of today’s indie-folk into a sonic landscape of dark moods and nuances.
Most remarkable, however, is Amanda Joy’s voice, which slips in and out of higher ranges with grace and gusto. The perfect match for Asher Cochláin’s all-embracing acoustic guitar and storytelling lyrics.