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Dat Rosa Mel Apibus

White Magic

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Album Review

White Magic's debut album, and first recording as the duo of Mira Billotte and Doug Shaw, stretches beyond the haunting indie folk of the Through the Sun Door EP to an eclectic, sometimes scattered, array of sounds. Dat Rosa Mel Apibus — Latin for "the rose gives the bees honey," a metaphor for hard work and its rewards that dates back to the 16th century — is an apt title for this collection of songs; it feels like Billotte and Shaw dug deep to expand the band's boundaries. When the album's ambitious moments work, they're undeniably exciting: "Hold Your Hand in the Dark" pairs a winding, medieval-sounding melody with tumultuous drums; "Palm and Wine" is oddly jaunty and sexy, like Peggy Lee singing a whimsical cabaret-folk number; and "Sun Song" has a witchy sense of drama. The duo also delves into the more mystical meanings of the album's title and beautiful packaging, which depicts the Rosa Mundi, a traditional Rosicrucian image: on "All the World Wept," Billotte asks, "What is creation?" over a droning sitar melody that curls like incense smoke; on "Childhood Song," she's philosophical: "All we are is a blooming rose growing above the weeds below." The band's stylistic risks don't always pay off, though. "Hear My Call" and the title track are lengthy without developing much, and the lumbering rhythms the band favors can become tedious. White Magic is still the most compelling when the focus is on Billotte's unique alto, as on the band's riveting version of the traditional ballad "Katie Cruel" and "What I See," both of which recall the focus and simplicity of Through the Sun Door. Dat Rosa Mel Apibus is a frustratingly uneven album, but its strongest moments suggest that White Magic's ambition and hard work will reap rewards eventually.

Biography

Formed: 2003 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

Brooklyn's dark indie folk duo White Magic features singer/guitarist/pianist Mira Billotte and guitarist Doug Shaw. Prior to White Magic, Billotte played in Quix*o*tic with her sister Christina (also of Slant 6); the earliest version of the band also included drummer/bassist Miggy Littleton, also of Ida, and guitarist/drummer Andy Macleod from California Speedway. The band played in New York for a couple of years and appeared on the United Bamboo collection before Drag City signed them in 2003. That...
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Dat Rosa Mel Apibus, White Magic
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