Tuesday, June 21, 2011

White Denim

Although it has been more than a month since the most recent post in this space, that doesn't mean there hasn't been noteworthy releases to assess in the meantime. All it means is that next year, my annual retreat from music reviews will be more acknowledged in advance. Simply put, late May and early June are just too busy to devote the amount of time required of each selection. I'm thinking of inviting a series of guest reviewers to pick-up the slack in 2012.

Well, enough of that, and a return to a record that has been waiting in the wings for a New Music Tuesdays review since its May 17 release. The single consonant-titled D delivered by the Austin, Tex.-based White Denim marks the culmination of the quartet's evolution from scattered collections of deliberate chaos to a more directed and accessible set of tracks. The 10-song album – released by Downtown Records – easily vacillates between power pop rock, jammy prog and hard blues in the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion tradition.

With a juiced-up Grateful Dead-style shuffle, "It's Him!" propels the collection from the outset with a sense of urgency. The pairing of frontman James Petralli's wafting vocals and determined acoustic guitar with the more aggressive rhythm section of bassist Steve Terebecki and drummer Joshua Block effectively straddles the line between fidgety and focused, and is a solid standard bearer for the remainder of the effort. It's subsequent counterpart, "Burnished," is a bit more trippy in tone and message despite its relatively short 2:36 of running time. The recent addition of lead guitarist Austin Jenkins is particularly noticeable here, with his angular riffs drawing sharp distinctions from the more linear progression delivered by the larger outfit.

The opening numbers also serve as a functional prelude for the third track, a full-on instrumental jam that showcases Terebecki's talents in particular. Swinging in easily from the retreat of "Burnished," "At the Farm" is a jam track for those of us who aren't quite as fond of the usual meandering pace of such offerings from the jam band set. The nearly four minutes of instrumental here are focused and driven, building from the song's dawning and oriented around Terebecki's rubbery lines. There's a sense of purpose here and its hard to remain unengaged in the proceedings because of their ferociousness.

Stepping back from the increasing energy is the starry "Street Joy," evoking more David Gilmour than Trey Anastacio. The leisurely pace is well-positioned in the set and hangs in the twilight like a slowly emptying summer evening. However, it's followed-up by the record's most twitchy and unenjoyable production, "Anvil Everything." While their attempt is perhaps enviable, there's just too much going on to reign it in for intent and direction – between the multiple levels of rhythm, effects and verses – to make sense of what's happening, although it might make good for a soundtrack for a movie drug trip sequence.

Fortunately, the group rebounds not long after with the tres Jethro Tull "River to Consider." Seriously, has a flute found such a prominent role in rock music since Aqualung? Again, the energy revolves around Terebecki's hard-pulled approach, with the other players bouncing around in unrelated tangents while Terebecki holds the grove down. The difference between this track and its predecessor is some distance stretching out their sonic ideas over a full five minutes, rather than layers of kinetic energy piled atop one another. Even more well-executed is the unforced transition into the album's most accessible track, "Drug." The number clearly has somewhere it wants to be and wastes little time in getting there. The guitar harmonies of Petralli and Jenkins are a nice treat to inject some intentional melody to the affair. While it's not likely to ever find a connection on dance club floors, the track's movement is welcome and deftly delivered.

Surely the record's most rocking project follows in "Bess St." The Blues Explosion influence is most pronounced here, while it also wouldn't be hard to envision Dave Ghrol finding his way to a similar concept, especially in the zesty boogie that marshals the number's middle third. Stepping out from that arena, the initial spaciness of "Is and Is and Is" is a bit stark at first, before kicking into the harder stuff in the chorus. And in relation to what came before it, the closing "Keys" is a bit of an outlier, like a deep cut from Lennon & McCartney tacked on to the end of a Zappa record. Nonetheless, its sweet and simple and a little countrified – a fun way to wrap-up the journey.

Come for: "Drugs"
Stay for: "It's Him!"
You'll be surprised by: "At the Farm"

1 comment:

  1. Keep me in mind for reviewing the new Stephin Merritt collection this fall!