Although I was a big fan of the vocal sweetness Mira Billotte brought to her sister Christina’s old band Quix*o*tic, I didn’t immediately take to her own band, White Magic. The music was less direct and simple, more meditative and transcendent, though the group’s connection to the whole friggin’ freak-folk circus eluded me from the very beginning. It took me a while to catch on to their debut album, Dat Rosa Mel Apibus, released late last year on Drag City, but lately I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. Billotte’s piano playing is rudimentary and repetitive, and while her low-toned vocals don’t always fit so neatly, a certain logic begins to emerge. Her voice dips down easily and veers upward with a bit of appealing difficulty, giving the music a kind of hypnotic, carousel-like vibe. A variety of drummers play on the album, including Jim White and Tim Barnes, and their contributions refuse to mesh mellifluously as well. Billotte’s sole steady bandmate, guitarist Doug Shaw, fills in the various cracks of the jagged arrangements, and if you don’t pay attention it’s easy to miss how crucial his musical glue is. The unusual rhythms and contrapuntal lines sounded out of whack at first but now I can’t imagine them any other way.    

Next month the group will release a new four-song EP called Dark Stars; it doesn’t really offer any surprises—other than Shaw’s vocal turn on “Winds,” a tune he penned—but it’s another strong outing. At the end of October a cover of Bob Dylan’s “As I Went Out One Morning” will turn up on the soundtrack for the Robert Zimmerman biopic I’m Not There.

White Magic headlines the opening night of Wire Magazine’s annual Adventures in Modern Music Festival on Wednesday at the Empty Bottle.

Today’s playlist:
Claudette Soares, Claudette Soares (1967) (Philips, Japan)
Ooleya Mint Amartichitt, Praise Songs (Long Distance)
Mathias Landæus, Fringe People (Moserobie)
Dr. Alimantado, Best Dressed Chicken in Town (Greensleeves)
Katia Guerreiro, Tudo ou Nada (Le Chant du Monde)