White Denim White DenimD
The title of White Denim's last album, Fits, describes their music perfectly. With the attention span of toddlers mainlining tartrazine, they jump from genre to genre, rarely waiting for the end of a song to do so. Or even the end of a chorus. Deliriously epileptic, you genuinely never know where they're going to go next.
The problem with this ADD attitude is it assumes the listener can be bothered to keep up. White Denim have hooks a-plenty, but they're often casually jettisoned before you've had your fill of them, in favour of another virtuoso burst of turbo-prog. There's no doubt they're capable of writing hits, as evidenced by the use of 'Shake Shake Shake' in a current detergent ad featuring, appropriately, several hyperactive children, but they don't seem especially excited by the prospect of commercial success.
This proved problematic during the creation of new album D. Not least because it's their first since signing to Downtown Records, who are naturally eager to tap White Denim's hit potential. The band, used to self-releasing and complete creative control, were unsurprisingly uncomfortable with this. A series of stand-offs ensued. Firstly, the label demanded a viable single before they'd release D completed a year ago according to the band; the summery (if unspectacular) 'Drug' was selected from a 15-track short-list, but it took “six or seven” rewrites before Downtown were fully satisfied.
Next the label sent D to be mixed by an engineer who quantized the hell out of it. White Denim got it back and un-quantized the hell back into it. Then they showed their frustration with the endless delays by releasing, without Downtown's permission, a collection of older tracks and newer jams called for free via their website. For them it was a way of rewarding their fans' patience. Whether their label was impressed with their benevolence is unclear. Last Day Of Summer
D finally arrives as the result of these disputes, and it's hard to discern any obvious label interference as the music sounds as itchily fitful as ever, skitting from Cream-era Clapton licks on 'Burnished' to a hazy imitation of M. Ward on the amiably ambling 'Keys'. In between, a flute solo flies in from nowhere to introduce the five-minute Bossa Nova excursion 'River To Consider'. Any musical map was presumably scribbled all over, ripped up and tossed in a bin early on.
Sometimes the musicians are more ear-catching than the songs they're playing. Joshua Block's drumming is irrepressibly imaginative throughout, a steady stream of snare-play complemented by immaculate cymbal selection. The guitar interplay between James Petralli and new member Austin Jenkins is also frequently breathtaking, not least on the Allman Brothers-esque instrumental 'At The Farm'. The band show their full range most effectively on 'Is And Is And Is', which switches from a sweetly mesmeric finger-picked verse to a stadium-worthy chorus that Petralli belts out like a righteous Jack White.
Nonetheless, White Denim do occasionally come off like they might be entertaining themselves more than their audience. While the album is slightly less flighty than previous efforts, with a strong Southern Rock theme prevailing, it still loses focus frequently. The recent reclaiming of prog rock from its pompous dungeon of pretension has served the band well, encouraging their more experimental excursions. Still, they would do well to remember that less is sometimes more. There's little threat of a garage-pop nugget like début single " Let's Talk About It '" breaking up the bombast, which is a shame.
You cannot really criticise White Denim for sticking to their guns though. They've resisted label pressure and recorded a fine album that entwines their Texan roots with psychedelic ambition and technical precision (seriously, why did anyone ever think they needed quantizing?). And while their influences can be drearily retro – Little Feat, Grateful Dead, Moby Grape – their breakneck pace propels them far beyond comparison. And yet, they're increasingly referred to as a “jam band”. Phish are a jam band. I don't want White Denim to turn into that. Kudos for forging your own path, but maybe dig that map out of the bin.
Kier Wiater Carnihan