[13 November 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Right off the bat on Exposion, it’s hard to pin White Denim down. The first riff could be one jagged and broken guitar line. Or it could be a breakneck, two-guitar interplay. Or it could be samples of guitar notes cobbled together to make a fractured riff. It’s broken down and crackled enough to be made of busted parts, but based on a string of notes so quick and infectious that it is the perfect hook to pull you into the album.
It also sets up an album where things that appear broken or backwards are actually the driving forces. On “Transparency”, you can hear the dry ruffle of the guitarist’s hard strumming almost as clearly as you can hear the chords coming out of the amplifier. “Migration Wind” opens with a cacophony of battling guitar notes and deep-underwater bass lines. “Shake Shake Shake” is almost too fast for its own good, the guitars so full of treble they sound like they might crack.
But nothing ever does crack on Exposion. It always manages to just barely hold together. Not only does it keep its jagged pieces knotted together to make a whole, it meshes different sounds throughout the record. The frenetic energy on every track works against the album’s bluesy intentions in a very interesting way, making the emotion on these songs sound more exasperated and desperate than beaten down and sad. The vocals, even at their quietest, are full-throated howls of want and not keening wails of melancholy.
And our baying hawkers—the whole band shouts in the background throughout the record—lead us through a rough and beautiful freak show of sounds. There’s the psychedelic pop of “Ieieie”. The atmospheric southern rock of “You Can’t Say”. The pastoral folk into sawdust power-pop of “Heart from All of Us”. From song to song, the band surprises the listener with a new take on a sound that is all theirs. Even when they take a break from the rough speed of most of their songs, they don’t lose any of their boundless energy. “WDA” has the laidback jazzy feel of mid-career Sea and Cake, while “All Truckers Roll” is all country road feel, but both break away from their starts in their own way. The former gets crunchier as it goes, while the latter crumbles from its sweet beginnings into the scratch and fizzle of cymbals and distortion squeaks.
From beginning to end, Exposion threatens chaos, but White Denim know the value of pushing to the edge without going over. The pop sensibility behind all this sprawling, sweaty R&B, mixed with a heavy dose of the roadrunner speed and snarl of garage punk, is what drives the haphazard beauty of this album. At its most out of control, this album exudes an impressive amount of focus, and in the end, White Denim gets to have it both ways. They’re as catchy as any pop band going, but they also handle strange sounds, texture, and off-kilter compositions as well as your favorite noise experimenter. No matter what music you’re into, Exposion probably has something for you.