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Brooklyn's White Rabbits are so good, it's frightening

It's as tom-tom tribal as a vintage Adam and the Ants A-side — "Percussion Gun," the relentless new single from Brooklyn alt-rock sextet White Rabbits, culled from an equally thumpety sophomore set, It's Frightening, on the hip TBD imprint.

Its video, directed by Andrew Palermo, who's currently filming a full-length documentary on the group, reveals two drummers, Matthew Clark and Jamie Levinson, pounding in frantic tandem, while frontman Stephen Patterson hammers away at his rickety piano.

The band played the song brilliantly on Letterman last month, but didn't speak to the question: Why such an obsessive focus on skin-slapped rhythm?

It's all in his dossier, confesses Patterson.

"Keyboards are what I play in this band, but my first instrument was drums," says the St. Louis-bred Brooklynite. "That's what I started playing when I was 10. And actually, I was the first drummer in this group. I kinda switched to piano and vocals after we moved to New York."

And the admittedly retro percussion on "Gun," he adds, "is just a great beat. And we just felt like it was time for that beat to come back."

Patterson, like many of his bandmates, attended the University of Missouri, initially studying music composition.

"And then I switched to a BA in music," he recalls. "So I ended up studying jazz drumming, more or less. And what was nice about that was you learn by going out and actually doing things — you actually go out and perform in ensembles."

Patterson swears his most crucial course was aural training.

"And I still use that all the time," he says. "I can just listen to a song now and know what's happening. I can understand why the progression is making me feel a certain way, or why the music is moving in a certain direction, without having to sit down and figure it out."

So when the 27-year-old recently re-appraised White Rabbits' '07 debut Fort Nightly, he was less than pleased. The album, he felt, lacked the kinetic spark the six members had begun generating onstage.

With Spoon svengali Britt Daniel producing, the band took a brand-new tack on It's Frightening. The writing process, Patterson reveals, "was more thinking about how the songs were making us feel, and not worrying so much about the cleverness or the craft. And we'd record as we were writing. So this time around, it was definitely a more visceral experience."

But do they really warrant an entire movie, two albums in? Palermo's project happened by accident, he says — the filmmaker came out on the road with White Rabbits and brought his cameras along.

"I hope it doesn't end up like that Anvil flick," says Patterson, referring to the Canadian metal band whose plummet from fame is intimately chronicled in a new documentary.

"But we've got final cut, so we'll see."

White Rabbits' crafty approach to alternative rock seems tailor-made for long-term success, if not the more ephemeral demands of the pop charts. So, given his musical background, what happens when someone switches on a Top 40 station in Patterson's presence? Does he immediately begin parsing what he hears?

"No — I love pop radio!" he enthuses. "Like that Beyoncé song, 'Single Ladies,' is just amazing, and really subversive, too.

"Hey, just because I have a music degree doesn't mean I'm a music snob!"

scene@csindy.com

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