Published Jul 07, 2017As its title powerfully evokes, Panther in the Dollhouse finds beloved Hamilton-based band Whitehorse wildly and ferociously shaking up their established sound. Though previously known for the gorgeous folk melodies written by founding duo and married couple Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet, Whitehorse now sound glammier and harder rocking on Panther, their fourth album (out now on Six Shooter Records).
Part of that new sound can be attributed to production duo Likeminds, whom McClelland and Doucet tapped for the first time to, according to a press release, bring "vintage drum machines, samplers and analog synths into the duo's space-twang sound."
"Early Whitehorse didn't have these kinds of elements, so we wanted to bring them in, but not in a way that everyone else is doing it," Doucet tells Exclaim! "The world doesn't need another '80s dance-inspired indie pop outfit. There's enough of that garbage out there and we didn't want to contribute to it."
Instead, Whitehorse incorporate those electronic sounds organically, and juxtapose them with their already established folkier leanings, to ensure their take was unique. McClelland credits Likeminds, producers Gus Van Go and Werner F. (who helmed Whitehorse's 2015 album Leave No Bridge Unburned) and their touring band, all of whom collaborated in the studio to vastly expand the band's sonic palate.
McClelland says she and Doucet gave their lyrics a similar shakeup on the new LP. That's immediately apparent on lead single "Boys Like You," which finds McClelland gleefully belting out the refrain "Boys like you they live with their mothers/ Forever! And ever!" over a glittery glam-tinged guitar riff and drum machines. But one Whitehorse mainstay remains: husband and wife trading verses and harmonizing, though Doucet counters McClelland's lines with his own verses about longing to be a "handsome drunk sad bastard." All of it amounts to pulpy matinee dialogue, rather than the wistful folk that Whitehorse fans have come to expect.
"We definitely have more creative and colourful characters on this album," McClelland says. Doucet agrees, adding: "We wrote the songs ambiguously, so it's hard to tell who the protagonists and the antagonists are. It's more interesting for the listener to have their sympathies confused like that."
Breaking into that new lyrical and sonic terrain was as thrilling for McClelland and Doucet as any of the plot twists they penned for their songs' characters. That's because, even though they were wary of approaching electro-rock clichés, they were all the more eager to break away from the tropes of folk rock and the genre dubbed "singer-songwriter."
"Singer-songwriter is my least favourite title of all," says Doucet. "It doesn't mean what it says. I mean Lemmy from Motörhead was a fucking singer-songwriter, but no one would think of that because of the term."
"Labels like 'singer-songwriter' suffocate their genres, give them limitations," McClelland agrees. "And we're not interested in that, especially on this album."