I had never heard of White Denim until about two months ago. I learned of the band when a friend, and regular reader of the blog, told me that I would love them and should write an entry on them. This is not the first time (and hopefully not the last time) that someone has given me suggestions on bands or albums to write about, and I’m usually very hesitant to jump right in and say, “Sure!” However, I always give the band/album a listen and make my decision based on my reaction to what I hear.
Well, when I listened to White Denim’s most recent full length album, D (released in 2011), I was immediately interested in what I heard. I had heard nothing like this album before, but so many elements sounded familiar, and I think that’s what made me love this album from the first time I heard it. It’s like listening to a bunch of music geeks take bits and pieces of their favorite music and throw them all together to see what comes out. It’s chaotic at times, but those that can listen beyond the chaos will hear some truly impressive music.
The Austin based band is made up four men, James Petralli (vocals/guitar), Joshua Bock (drums), Steve Terebecki (bass), and Austin Jenkins (guitar). Each one of them is extremely skilled, which is noticeable on every single song on the album. The rhythmic and melodic conversations that occur between all four members are some of the most interesting I’ve ever heard. So much so that I barely listen to Petralli’s words, and more so on his melodic lines that blend right in with the rest of the music. This group is a true band, with no member really standing out from the rest.
But I need to get back to the comment I made about how elements of this band and the album, D, sound eerily familiar. Let’s start with Petralli’s voice. The first person I thought of when I heard his voice was Dan Auerbach, of The Black Keys. Now I love Auerbach’s voice so this isn’t a dig at Petralli in the slightest, and I don’t think he’s trying to be Auerbach, I think he’s just singing how he sings, and it just happens he sounds a bit like Auerbach. But there’s more to Petralli’s voice. There’s a bit of Jeff Buckley in there as well, especially when he goes to his upper register or falsetto, which gives his voice so much more depth and color. And then there’s his inner Ian Astbury (of The Cult), which comes out like a beast when Petralli gets aggressive, most evident on the choruses of “Is And Is And Is.”
As for the music, well let’s just say the band’s style palette is pretty broad. However, two bands that came to mind more than anything were Mahavishnu Orchestra and Yes. Just for reference, Mahavishnu was a jazz fusion band fronted by guitar virtuoso John MacLaughlin, while Yes was an early British prog rock group that was very big and influential in the 1970s. In both cases, the music was very cerebral and at times pushed musical boundaries. The reason I say that the band sounds like Mahavishnu is due to the frenetic and chaotic pace of some of the music, particularly in the guitar and drums. “At The Farm” is the best example of this similarity, not only because it lacks any vocals, but because the guitar lines are very MacLaughlin-esque, and the drumming is slightly reminiscent of Billy Cobham (check out “Birds of Fire” to see what I mean). As for the Yes reference, D is filled with a lot of prog-rock influence, even if it’s not even close to a typical prog-rock album. Yet, like Yes, White Denim takes its listeners on journeys (albeit much shorter ones), and there are a few songs that are undeniably Yes-like. Specifically, “Bess St.” which not only sounds like something Yes would put on in their harder-rocking days, but from the 1:58 mark and on it’s straight out of The Yes Album or Fragile.
I could go on and on about how the different parts of specific songs sound like other bands, but I won’t. Because I’m not getting to the real point of this blog entry, which is that D is a freaking fantastic album. It’s a 37-minute musical adventure that you don’t want to stop, with a handful of truly delightful highlights.
The opening track, “It’s Him!,” is a perfect primer for the rest of the album. Having both a frenetic pace and several changes in feel and time, the song is filled with great musical lines that intertwine each other in a “there’s a method to this madness” feel. The Radiohead-esque “Burnished” follows, and continues the trend its predecessor set, but in a more controlled environment. The highlight of this song is the bridge, which includes some very Yes-esque guitar lines.
“Street Joy” shows that the band can scale down the chaos and create some hauntingly beautiful music. In a fashion reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s Grace, the band floats along as Petralli’s voice drives the song from start to finish, showing that emotional aggression is not a bad thing in a somber song. “River To Consider” has the band taking a sharp left turn, mixing Latin jazz and a bit of Jethro Tull (not only because there is a flautist) to create a feeling of floating down a river deep in the forest (for some reason the Jungle Cruise ride comes to mind).
The album closes incredibly strong on the backs of the last four songs. The album’s first (and only) single, “Drug,” shows that the band can write songs with catchy lyrical hooks, as well as keep their music well contained while still having the passion and energy that embodies the entire album. The aforementioned “Bess St.” and “Is And Is And Is,” follow, with the latter’s Cult-esque choruses being my favorite parts of the album (it’s been in my head for three days straight). The album closes with a seemingly out of place country tune, entitled “Keys.” The least chaotic and most straightforward song on the album, the tune is a fantastic little ditty that lets listeners down easy, but satisfied, even if they are a bit confused.
Simply put, White Denim’s album, D, is a great album, and one that music geeks will likely enjoy. This is not only because the songs are damn good, but because there is so much music to dissect that every time you listen to the album you’ll hear something new, and possibly exciting. Though it might be hard for some people to take to, especially on first listen, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to listen to it again and again.
Oh, and from what I’ve heard (and seen on YouTube.com) the band is damn good live, as well.