White Denim: “Fits”

There’s a good line from James Petralli in the biog which accompanies “Fits”, the new White Denim album. “We set the tempos high,” he says, “and set off.”

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There’s a good line from James Petralli in the biog which accompanies “Fits”, the new White Denim album. “We set the tempos high,” he says, “and set off.”

Something of a simplification, but you can see what he means. Like its predecessor, “Workout Holiday”, “Fits” rushes through a lot of ideas in its 35 or so minutes. Again, it’s ostensibly the sound of a more-or-less conventional rock’n’roll band pushing the form to its limits. Not experimental, as such; more adventurous, frantic and greedy for ideas. It’d be easy for them to be self-indulgent, not least because their drummer, Josh Block, looked like one of the best I’ve seen in years when White Denim played our Club Uncut last year (they’re headling our stage at The Great Escape next month, by the way).

And I suppose, in the way they integrate all their riffs – including incredibly punchy and memorable pop songs like, here, “I Start To Run” and “Regina Holding Hands”- into a sort of manic jam, they are. Music business types with an eye on sensible commercial presentation will, once again, roll their eyes in despair. But for the rest of us, it makes for a thrilling ride – and, actually, an anti-indulgent one, given how quickly and ruthlessly they spit up and dispatch idea after idea after idea.

To try and give some vague sense of the exhilarating gush of “Fits”, I thought I’d try and write about it, track-by-track, as it plays. Hold tight, here goes – with explosions, distorted howled chants and then “Radio Milk How Can You Stand It”, furious drums and bass runs, hardcore guitar chops, a reverberant Hendrixy solo, some kind of catchy tune over frenzied rolls, and the first reiteration of the Minutemen vibe I mentioned in that live review. Oh, and a totally incongruous reverb-heavy coda that sounds a bit like an Austin power trio trying to sound like The Isley Brothers.

Next up, a big clanging psych-rocker called “All Consolation”, Petralli lost in a vortex, a trademark nagging melody pulled apart by staccato rhythms and solos. It’s amazing stuff, a sort of vandalised reorganisation of classic rock. Echoing drum space into a brassy “High Time”-era MC5 soul rocker called “Say What You Want” (cousin, maybe, of “All You Really Have To Do”), in which the wanton way they obfuscate their genius – in this case the artful smothering of Petralli’s rousing pipes – is again apparent.

After a minute or so, they get bored with the mighty riff and jam off somewhere else. Two minutes in, some kind of electric sitar effect serves to push up the tempo further into some molten jazz-hardcore jam. “Hard Attack” begins, again, with a memorable riff, then speeds into manic Latino – lyrics in Spanish – territory; like, perhaps, how I always hoped the evolution from At The Drive-In into The Mars Volta might work out.

Track Five, “I Start To Run”; relatively logical, hairy, funky, incredibly catchy, and this album’s “Let’s Talk About It”. There’s some odd, almost dubby punctuation here, though, that would destroy the song’s momentum if most bands were foolhardy enough to try it. Again, there’s that sense of a formal song disintegrating halfway through, only to be replaced by something more interesting. “Sex Prayer”, up next, is bassist Steve Terebecki at the controls with more dub, Black Ark organ, and chattering guitars and textures that suggest, maybe, Tortoise if they’d stayed a shade closer to their hardcore roots.

Halfway through already. “Mirrored And Reversed” is at once urgent and laidback, maybe Texan motorik, or maybe space-rock Canned Heat, or something by Black Mountain, with a fantastic pulsating bassline and some weirdly bubbling boogie breaks (apologies: I hate alliteration). It fades into the distance, then fades back in again for a drilled freak-out closing passage. Worth mentioning here, the incredible discipline of this band, as well as their eclecticism: “Paint Yourself”, next, is groovy and countrified, hearty enough to be a ballad but still carried off with the usual pace and gusto. It’s beautifully accomplished.

As is “I’d Have It Just The Way We Were”, a feathery and fast, jazzy waltz that, again, has something of The Isleys about it. At just over two minutes, you could get annoyed at White Denim for tossing off such great songs like this, but there’s always something interesting coming along to compensate. In this case, it’s “Everybody Somebody”, a fractious workout that sounds like – bear with me – ZZ Top playing punk-funk. I may be getting carried away now.

“Regina Holding Hands” is a crystallisation of some of the – it’s all relative – mellower ideas on “Fits”, being a gorgeous blue-eyed soul tune that could/should lure a few unsuspecting pop fans into White Denim’s deeply confusing universe. Finally, “Syncn”, is rippling and soft, tender even, but still imbued with the momentum – “the tempos high” – that makes the whole album so swift and compelling. Make sense?


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