After their initial blastoff with a couple of well-received singles, the New York duo formerly known as Whitey on the Moon UK change their name and bring the full-length bizness a messy spin through the barely-digested contents of a musical omnivore's funky gullet.
Downtempo drum-break nuggets like "Noam Chomsky Spring Break 2002" are Department of Eagles' best stuff, like Four Tet going deeper on the hip-hop tip. But nestled next to the beats are some Radiohead knockoffs, a deadpan Streets parody, a clippity-cloppity cowboy song, and an electric-piano soul ballad titled "The Curious Butterfly Realizes He Is Beautiful."
This isn't quite as oddball as it sounds blurring the lines between rock and electronic is getting less and less novel, bordering on tired. You've got the Fog singing indie folk songs over beat-juggled drums, Boom Bip ending his album with a contemplative solo guitar piece, and the Beta Band sounding like Timbaland on tour with the Dead. So, no big deal, but there's a bigger drawback: When you've got as much wink-wink nudge-nudge going on as Department of Eagles, it can make it hard for the listener to buy into what you're doing. On a song like "Romo-Goth," DoE are obviously shooting for ROCK but end up at "rock," with unintentional quote marks around the feedback and vocal histrionics.
Luckily, people don't have to think much about intentions when they're listening to instrumental hip-hop. The beats on Whitey... are plenty hot, at least when they aren't being chopped and squiggled into samplus interruptus, and about half of the "song" songs avoid all the pitfalls. A super-catchy sing-along like "Family Romance" is immune to overthinking just sing along! "Sailing by Night," the best of the album's Radiohead-fetish trilogy, builds up a thick, thrumming melancholy that's worth taking a dip in ("Picture me/ Glistening over the seas"). Bottom line, several of these tracks would make great material for a mixtape. In a way, they're already on one.