Strange to think that, when the first UK White Denim single turned up, they seemed to be more or less like a garage rock band. I was just re-reading my blog on their UK debut, “Workout Holiday”, and was amused to see some discussion in the comments about their relationship or otherwise with The Hives. Not much chance of that happening nowadays, especially with “D”.
“D” is just about the fourth White Denim album in a confusing discography, which has encompassed different releases for the US and UK (“Austin’s Newest Hitmakers!”) and a download only album from last year, “The Last Day Of Summer”, that, embarrassingly, I only found out about last week.
“The Last Day Of Summer” signalled a relatively softer, poppier shift in the band’s music, following 2009’s tremendous “Fits”. But while “D” reflects that to some degree (on “Drug”, in particular), White Denim’s modus operandi remains to hybridise radically clashing styles of music at an often bewildering speed. Certain elements and influences are played down this time: there’s less vintage Detroit rock, less Hendrix and Funkadelic.
Instead, White Denim have never sounded more like a band from Texas, with an enhanced quotient of southern rock and country, among other things (check the beautiful closing Western Swing baroque of “Keys”, with its prancing steel solo). But at the same time the newly-expanded four-piece have never sounded more modern and experimental.
A fair bit of “D”, then, could just about be classified as Southern fried math-rock: the amazing “Burnished” being a case in point, not least when it evolves into the instrumental “At The Farm”, which exists in an elevated jamming space about halfway between The Allman Brothers and The Boredoms circa “Vision Create Newsun”. It’s an amazing trick, facilitated by the loose/intense virtuosity of the players, and it’s one they fire up a few more times as “D” rolls on, culminating in the cycling, syncopated peaks in the second phase of “Bess St” – a song which begins at a manic chug, like some tooled upgrade of the 13th Floor Elevators (if only Roky Erickson had recruited these neighbours as his backing band instead of Okkervil River…).
White Denim have been in this space before, briefly, on “Mirrored And Reversed” and, especially, the end section of “Say What You Want”. But “D” is a technical tour de force: “Anvil Everything” even resembles, I’m told, Yes’ “Relayer”, while “River To Consider” begins like a Fania jam, plus jazz flute, and also faintly recalls Stereolab’s “Percolator” (and/or, possibly, their cover of “One Note Samba”). I’m pushed to think, however, of a record where proggish/post-rockish tendencies are handled with such zip and joy, so that it sounds anything but uptight.
“Is And Is And Is” starts off as kind of dappled psych, before ramping up into a stadiumish chorus in which James Petralli switches back to the deeper soul-rock bark that used to be his default tone. Soon enough, the systems-like, rippling patterns begin pulsing beneath the melody, so effectively that it seems as if White Denim have found a way to cross anthemic rock and Terry Riley in a way which recalls, but doesn’t exactly copy, The Who around “Baba O’Riley”.
It sounds fantastic but, as ever, White Denim never hang around in one place for long. “Keys” lopes in, amiably, to take its place and, too quickly, this exciting, stimulating, quite brilliant album is over. A while ‘til it comes out, I’m afraid, but “Anvil Everything” is on White Denim’s website. Give it a go and report back, if you have a chance?