Harmony Central

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.

June 27, 2004. Reviews.