It’s quite a good time for new bands at the moment in our corner of the world, what with Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes riding a mild wave of critical acclaim in the wake of South By Southwest and so on. To that list we can add White Denim, another hit at SXSW that I’ve already written about here a while back.
“Let’s Talk About It”, the Austin trio’s debut single, has been played so much in the Uncut office that I could plausibly call it our Single Of The Year thus far. Now, happily, we have “Workout Holiday”, their messy and entertaining first album. It is not, music industry mavens will be gutted to hear, a record that’s likely to sell millions: the Devo-esque garage jerk of “Let’s Talk About It” is very much the obvious ‘hit’ here.
In fact, the album takes more of a cue from the deranged spin-out of that single, the rather bracing sound of a band unravelling. So “Shake Shake Shake” is a febrile, frenzied workout where song, lyrics and such are incidental to a sort of disintegrating riff, while “Look That Way At It” and “WDA” are heroically malnourished instrumental skronk-outs. Detractors will doubtless have a go at tracks like this as haphazard jams that should’ve been left in the rehearsal space. But it’s the dynamic energy which is so gripping – White Denim strike me as one of those great bands who, marvellously and mystifyingly, seem to be both loose and tight at the same time.
Anyway, I’m playing “Workout Holiday” for the third or fourth time now, and it’s all falling into place. “Mess Your Hair Up” I mentioned last time I blogged on the band, and it remains one of their best tracks, starting off like an auspicious hook-up between Rob Tyner and Sonic Youth and then spiralling off into another long, fraught, wiry freak-out that, as I probably said before, really reminds me of the mighty and underrated Love As Laughter. “All You Really Have To Do” is stuttering lo-fi soul-punk that clings close to The MC5, too.
There’s a curiously skewed piano ballad called “Sitting” which has a little more conventional melody, but still that wild-eyed and diffident approach to form which is so appealing. A bit like Nilsson, maybe, but a precise reference for it keeps evading me. “Heart From Us All” chugs along gloriously, in the mood of “Loaded”-era Velvets, but with some clang and twang that gives it a countryish edge. “Don’t Look That Way At It”, meanwhile, is faintly reminiscent of Talking Heads and, as someone here mentioned, the leftfield end of the new Brooklyn scene like The Dirty Projectors.
But as a whole, “Workout Holiday” at least affects to be tremendously indisciplined, and you get the impression that most A&R droids would spend exasperated sessions trying to get the band to focus their energies into more concise garage rock – the concise hits which “Let’s Talk About It” and fragments of several other songs here prove that they’re capable of.
But then “Workout Holiday” works best for me precisely because it is so wayward, precisely because it sounds like a band pushing a rudimentary rock’n’roll model so far that it begins to fall apart, then revelling in the chaos they’ve created. Really annoyed that I missed them live the other week, incidentally: if anyone managed to catch the shows, how about posting a report here?