When it comes to paying tribute to their influences while creating a wholly new sound, White Denim have managed to crack the code. There’s an entire slew of sounds erupting all over Side Effects, their latest album. It’s likely the result of an incredibly eclectic combined record collection. These sounds seem to meld in a way that results in a winning proto-style, not really latching on to any one particular musical predecessor. It’s a tough trick to master.
“Small Talk (Feeling Control)” opens the album with lightning-speed, Santana-at-Woodstock congas, and combines it with a punk urgency. It’s a somewhat schizophrenic way to kick things off, but it helps set up the rest of the relatively short blast of an album (clocking in at just under 30 minutes).
On “Hallelujah Strike Gold”, they dig even deeper, grabbing hold of a killer funk rock vibe and coming off like Aerosmith joining forces with a Stax/Volt house band. The restrained sound effects bring a futuristic flavor and the stop/start tempo shifts recall vintage Zappa. With all the name-checking necessary to describe Side Effects, there are times when the derivative nature of the album almost causes it to collapse under its own weight. But at the same time, they manage to make it work, and besides – you can’t really fault them for being ambitious.
While White Denim seem relatively content to contain the songs to “single” length – they’re mostly between two and three minutes long – but they aren’t above creating small epics, as they do on “NY Money”. This Strokes-as-prog-rock gem combines a breezy urgency with lots of big, over-the-top moments. But then they’ll turn around and churn out a small interlude piece like “Out of Doors”, a frantic, psych/folk acoustic guitar showcase that sounds like Lindsey Buckingham sitting in with Yeasayer.
White Denim has been known to stretch out their music to include long-form soloing and a jam-band aesthetic, but the relatively compact nature of Side Effects gives them a chance to rein things in without really losing their freewheeling nature. The instrumental “Reversed Mirror” is propelled by a bluesy Southern rock shuffle fueled by Moog synth touches, and it sounds like a song that could extend well past the 15-minute mark (which it probably could, during live performances). But keeping it at a modest run time gives the listener a time to sample what that band can do with this genre and then move on to the next category, such as the thrash rock of “Head Spinning” or the sludgy psychedelic funk of “Introduce Me”.
Running through all nine songs on Side Effects is not unlike speeding down the open road in a vintage Chevy with an eclectic mix tape in your car stereo. There’s plenty of different music at your disposal, and you never know what comes next. The album is wildly and refreshingly unpredictable.