[20 July 2011]
PopMatters Associate Events Editor
Have you ever heard a band that obviously has so many influences woven into the tangles of their musical hair that all you can think to do is scream the names of those influences out in succession at the top of your lungs, knowing that in the end you wouldn’t even have broken the skin of those layers? This is the immediate reaction you’ll get from listening to White Denim. For those of you who have been following their already five-year career and heard their previous three albums, and for the band themselves, references to their multitude of influences have been said, written, and shouted so many times that it’s probably beginning to become an insult, or at the very least boring. Nevertheless, it’s those myriad influences that make White Denim exciting and so unique it’s hardly even necessary to name those sources anyway. Regardless, these guys can rock.
White Denim’s previous album, 2009’s Fits, sits in your gut like a heavy burrito: At first it’s a lot to handle, almost uncomfortable, but soon enough it settles into a delicious satisfaction. There is a pounding, eager rhythm, and a dark sensibility. Their talent as a trio was impressive, but like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, you might not have known what to make of it unless you dissected every inch of it like a frog in fifth grade science class. In contrast, their latest soundscape, D, is immediately comfortable. It does not have that initial unsettling, and needs barely any time to get used to. The rhythmic, short, structured songs are not there in the same form. Instead, the now-quartet (they recently added guitarist Austin Jenkins to the lineup) lets its songs settle into woven threads of well-thought out instrumentals, but still maintains the same exuberance and excitement in their music. The modulations, tempo changes, and vocal effects are still there, so their brand is still intact, but it is a much more cohesive, flowing, and easier to digest showcase than we’re used to from White Denim.
But “easier to digest” does not mean “simpler”. Thankfully, D is not a simple album.
D is a 37-minute smattering of contemporary and historic musical insemination, a record with the heart of rock and roll and the inspiration of everything else. The album’s opener “It’s Him” is a roller coaster of psychedelia that drifts between The Bends-era Radiohead and Queens of the Stone Age, and ends in a Canned Heat-esque jam. “At the Farm”, the second half of the “Burnished” suite (if I may name sections of this album without permission), is 3:59 of layered dueling guitars and rhythmic shuffle. It’s a mind-boggling reexamination of the most harrowing solos by Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page. The flute on “River to Consider” dances over percussive breaks that straddle a line between Caribbean and African rhythm, but the song still maintains a base of rock and roll. The ending of “Bess St.” throws you into a whirlwind of tempo and key changes that spin you around like a clothes dryer among Zappa-inspired mutilation.
Yet it’s not all organized chaos: the quartet also thrives in the simplistic. “Street Joy” is a classically 70’s ballad, and “Keys” is an easy and beautiful folk song—one of the truest tracks on the album.
White Denim is arguably the most impressively musical band around: their talent reaches so far it’s hard to pin them down into a classification of any sort beyond just “rock”. Petralli’s and Jenkins’s guitar chops are enough to make you ignore the vocal timidity altogether—the two run their fingers up and down the guitar neck so fast you’d expect a tornado to form around them. And while they fire on high, Joshua Block literally pounds his drums to smithereens and Steve Terebecki owns his bass like a 12-year-old protecting his schoolyard reputation.
D is one for the record books, if not because it’s an overflowing melting pot of talent and ideas, then because of how many times you’ll find yourself hitting the play button again.