Reviews for Peek & Poke:
Left-field success couldn’t have happened to a more deserving artist than Jyoti Mishra. As the sole member of White Town, the indie stalwart sensibly signed a one-shot contract with EMI to exploit his extremely catchy synth-pop. Little did he expect that “Your Woman” and the album Women In Technology would become such big hits, but, having done far better than anyone could have predicted, Mishra put his money in the bank and jumped ship. Or maybe he was pushed.
In any case, White Town’s new Peek & Poke finds Mishra back on Parasol, the independent label that released his first recordings. Proving that nothing can quite match a major-label marketing push, Peek & Poke doesn’t seem on track to replicate its predecessor’s success, but it’s got just as much to offer.
Sticking to his formula of looped synth hooks and drum machines, as well as Sarah Records-styled low-key pop, Mishra illustrates that home recording can result in more than just mushy fuzz. Sharp both musically and lyrically, these songs have a way of sneaking into the subconscious. “Another Lover,” “Every Second Counts,” and “Duplicate” skate by on cool electro melodies and robotic funk beats, while “Why I Hate Drugs,” “In My Head,” and “I’m Alone” are gently guitar-driven.
Then there’s the sublime trip-hop perfection of “She Left For Paris,” a charmer in any context. But the real conceptual coup is “Excerpts From An Essay,” a Kraftwerk-esque epic that features a club-ready beat and a disembodied synthetic vocal intoning an academic treatise on the ideological and sociological ramifications of hip-hop. Some dismiss machine music as too cold, but in the hands of Mishra, it’s simply cool. - Joshua Klein
Tower Europe - Top Magazine
Perhaps the nicest recipient of a freak Number One hit in recent memory, Jyoti Mishra - aka WHITE TOWN - used the considerable proceeds of ‘Your Woman’ - a worldwide smash two years ago - to set up his own mini recording empire in Norwich, and now writes, records and releases records in which he does everything: plays, sings, and makes the tea. The man’s new album, Peek & Poke (Bzangy Groink)*** is full of sweet but subtle musical invention that reveals him as a big fan of pop. Despite an occasional DIY feel, there is much here to admire: the soft and lilting melody of ‘In My Head’, the bizarre fuzz of ‘Bunny Boiler’, and the rather winsome ‘Another Lover’. It’s unlikely that any of these tracks will land him another big hit, but you get the feeling that Mishra is unconcerned with fighting out chart positions with Steps and S Club 7.
Jyoti Mishra, who operates under the nom de disque White Town, reached the top of the pop world in 1997 with the synth-pop confection “Your Woman” — and then decided he didn’t like the view. Mishra, who has been releasing surprisingly hi-fi home recordings since the dawn of the ’90s, hasn’t changed his M.O. appreciably since beating his retreat from the biz: He’s still fond of layering brittle keyboard lines over simple, languid breakbeats, then topping the blend with tales that range from bittersweet reflection to reflective bitterness.
While there’s not a whole lot of stylistic variation on Peek & Poke, other than ephemeral additions like the icy vocal counterpoint Sophie Clarke adds to three songs and the lofty church organ intro to “Every Second Counts,” Mishra creates a sense of anticipation through his arid delivery and snide, mercurial wit. Those elements fuse remarkably well on the Smiths-styled paramour-deflector “Another Lover” and the undisguised antipathy of “Why I Hate Drugs.”
Reticent even by the standards of pop’s studio eccentrics, Mishra is one of the least likely hit-makers of his generation. But for all the work he puts into keeping the mainstream at bay — like ditching his bank of Moogs after their rediscovery — Mishra might find fame knocking again, thanks to improbably infectious ditties like “I’m Alone” and the acoustic thrash hybrid “Bunny Boiler.” A bad thing for him, perhaps, but a benefit for disenfranchised pop eccentrics as a whole.
Rock Sounds Magazine
Well, if you’re looking for another ‘Your Woman’, the t a n g l e d dollop of uber-pop that catapulted one-man wonder Jyoti Mishra through celebrity city for several days back in ‘97, then you’d best look elsewhere. If, however, you’re tempted by the prospect of Depeche Mode with church organs
where the synths should be (’Every Second Counts’), Blur circa 1990 and 1999 simultaneously (’I'm Alone’), and the best sixty-second snarl the seventies forgot to deliver (’Bunny Boiler’), then White Town would appear to be the destination for you.
Back in familiar territory on his own label, Mishra sounds here (even if the Iyrics, perhaps a little disappointingly, don’t allude to it at all) as if it’s something of a relief to be able to record again away from the demands that his sudden success placed upon him, and the end results are even more satisfying for their sure-footed incohesiveness. Overlook at your peril.
3.5 / 5
For the majority of pop acts, success means taking a fairly standard set of materials and tools and putting just enough spin on them to make a product with its lineage, construction and craftsmanship all readily apparent - no risks, no unexpected corners, nothing out of line.
Then there’s White Town.
Using a staggering number of combinations of synthesizers, guitars, drum machines and other sonic odds and ends, White Town, made up only of Jyoti Mishra, takes much of the ready-made pop vocabulary and puts it through a musical meat grinder, coming up with another album delivering the decisive catchiness of pop without the much-abused conventions frequently floundering in the pop arena with Peek and Poke.
Taking on a wide swath of directions on this record, White Town still manages to stay true to a distinct style, be it working through harsh pop-punk on “Bunny Boiler,” or the sinister yet irrefutable indie pop of “Another Lover.” Indulging in idiosyncrasies without the pretentious sense of accomplishment commonly tagging along with unrepentant individuality, Mishra taps the essence of pop music - immediately memorable tunes - without consulting the cookbook for quick’n'easy pop singles.
While never quite touching on the unbridled hooks and personality of the band’s 1997 smash “Your Woman,” Peek and Poke still comes through with a solid offering of pop goodies. Whether earnestly prodding in “Why I Hate Drugs,” featuring squishy keyboard melodies, or indulging in XTC-eqsue flights of distorted guitar in “Anyway,” White Town’s work forces the complex interaction of several layers of melody - usually featuring multiple synthesizer melodies and guitar figures - into a superficially simple façade. Both immediate and introspective in its layered underpinnings, Mishra’s knack for deceptively complex tunes gives every track on this album a brand identity despite their superficially different directions. It’s a trick helping to keep Peek and Poke from falling into the rut of sameness often plaguing collections of single-oriented pop compositions.
Though White Town succeeds in moving in numerous directions as well as abandoning many of the more worn-out pop phenomena, at times Mishra finds himself a little too self-indulgent or slightly too conformist. Be it the straightforward “In My Head,” a pedestrian track by White Town Standards, or the rambling Kraftwerk-meets-Trotsky diatribe in the cold and harsh “Excerpts From an Essay,” discussing the implications of conflict theory as applied to early hip hop thrown over thick beats, White Town shows it can go both too far and not far enough down the road of individuality.
For a genre both as broad and as whitewashed as pop is, Peek and Poke proves there’s still life left in modern pop structures, provided a little remodeling is in order. A catchy and intuitive jump off pop’s far edges, this record proves almost as memorable as it is unique.
If the intro riff to Jyoti Mishra’s “Bunny Boiler” is anything significant to go by, you can expect sunny California hardbodies in flourescent tho-tho-tho-thong-thongs (Sisqo is really Porky Pig with a nifty silver hairdo and a flashy disguise) to come popping out of a Newport Lights-painted poolhouse. For a more
surfer-friendly, suspiciously Friends theme song-on-speed-like track there has never been. Well, not recently anyway.
Still, that Friends-esque comparison doesn’t entirely hold weight in that all the soft and fluffy aspirations of the theme song are regarded rather viciously here with the lyrical equivalent of…oh, say, an industrial-strength blowtorch. First off, you won’t find Ross giving Rachel a teddy (neither the lacy, silk nor the stuffed kind); the title of the superficially-cheery track gives that much away, I figure. Although White Town could also just have a hidden fetish for torturing Hugh Hefner’s playmates. While that’s another story for the rumor-hungry Spin.com news mill, I can tell you that the “Your Woman” man of yore has more than a little bit of a poison pen to share with the lot of those who will listen.
Packed into a hardcore-worthy one minute, “Bunny Boiler” is, at the least, a millennial take on “Hold on to Your Friends,” written by the star of the Mope Show, Morrissey. And the fact that Mishra and White Town, along with various others, are the ones bringing the act of wearing your wit and emotion on your nappy, musician sleeve in the computer age is especially appropriate considering that one of the places Mishra seems particularly omnipresent is the internet; his opinions can be found on a number of music-related newsgroups and on his self-maintained webpages (http://www.bzangy.com). And opinionated he is, if the bunny being boiled in this track from White Town’s latest is a clue. Boy, would I hate to be in that pot of wabbit stew…but listening to the frothy, surprisingly straight rock-ridden composition is enjoyable for even the subconsciously sadistic and/or masochistic.