Ash and Smoke
White Denim are a fascinating band straddling seemingly disparate genres. One one hand, what they showed on 2009’s Fits was a raucous and aggressive kind of garage rock that bordered on punk. They were a trio then, and sounded a little like a tamer Minutemen. Now, with D, they’ve matured, added a fourth member, put some money down on equipment and a real-deal studio—until now they had recorded in a trailer—and taken a new direction.
One thing is for sure; these songs aren’t all alike. Whereas Fits was skronky and youthful, D is a record that reflects the Austin, Texas band’s love for all kinds of rock, but especially proggy, jammy stuff informed by the likes of Rush and Jethro Tull. One of the more remarkable tracks is “Burnished,” a noodly, groovy jam that’s followed by an instrumental that flows directly from its finish. When talking about indie bands in 2011, it could seem like a kiss of death to be in the same family as Phish, but there’s definitely a little bit of that vibe on D.
The record as a whole is far from a patchouli-fest, though. The sprawling opener, “It’s Him!”, feels so tinny and vibrant that it would fit in alongside Thin Lizzy on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack. White Denim’s drums and bass are spot-on, executed powerfully throughout by Josh Block and Steve Terebecki, respectively. The badass “Anvil Everything” highlights Block’s insane skills with a tune that feels metallic in its speed and thrust, even as James Petralli’s delicately beautiful croon offsets any impressions of heaviness.
The secondary guitar brought in for this record is welcome. The guitar parts interlock and weave around each other brilliantly. On “Drug,” the shimmery, meandering solos from Petralli and Austin Jenkins are intoxicatingly psychedelic. And on the almost goofy “River to Consider,” we are gifted with the presence of an absolutely charming flute part. It takes you back to days of hazy light shows and mass drug-taking.
Here the wandering melody and chaotic noise elevates White Denim away from Phish and closer to The Jimi Hendrix Experience. There are worse things to be compared to, and White Denim deserve the critical acclaim being piled on top of D.