White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything, and I have been meaning to, but other things in life have gotten in the way.  Thankfully, I have a free moment to write, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. That’s because I have not been able to stop listening to White Denim’s new album, Corsicana Lemonade.

I first wrote about (and listened to) the Austin-based quartet over a year and a half ago, reviewing their 2011 release, D, a record which I still enjoy. The album is full of music that crosses genres and brings the listener back to different eras in time. It really is a fantastic album, and compared to their earlier work, it is much more accessible to all listeners. Where their early work was a mix of garage rock, psychedelia, sonic experimentation, and raw energy, Corsicana Lemonade finds the band taking another step toward general accessibility without giving up the characteristics that make them an incredibly special and amazing band. That is, the band still has technically and sonically intricate music backed by a steady groove, they’ve just tightened everything up.

A perfect example of this is the album’s opener, “At Night in Dreams.” The song opens with WHITE-DENIM-CORSICANA-LEMONADEan intense and blistering dual guitar lick from James Petralli (vocals/guitar) and Austin Jenkins (guitar) backed by a deep, yet subtly funky groove set by drummer Josh Bock and bassist Steve Terebecki. This feel continues throughout the song until the bridge, where the band decides to break into a jazzy shuffle, before coming back to the main groove for one last chorus and then launching into a ripping, metal-esque outro. While this would all seem out of place for most bands, it fits perfectly into the mold that White Denim has created for itself.

This trend of blending styles and genres was something that was heard on D, but on Corsicana Lemonade the band seems to have focused on writing songs that sound more structured and, dare I say, have the possibility of being on the radio. The two best examples of this being “Pretty Green,” the first single, and “Come Back.”

“Pretty Green” is, for all intents and purposes, a radio-friendly song, which is likely the reason it was the first single. The groove, right from the get-go, is a staccato quarter-note pattern, which creates an incredibly bouncy (pop) feel. There are also the two melodic hooks that appear throughout the song. The first appears at the end of each verse, with Petralli singing, “I was looking up, looking out,” and the second is the chorus itself. Add in the fact that the song is not sonically overbearing, with each riff and groove having space to breathe, and you get a song that was meant to be heard, and enjoyed, by the masses. Now it may seem like I am upset with this, but the opposite is true. I really like this song, and have since the first time I heard it. A good song is a good song, no matter what the intent was behind it, and this is a good song. The band is in the pocket throughout, beefed up by Terebecki’s muddy, sci-fi-ish bass sound, with each sonic flourish perfectly placed, adding color to the track.

While “Pretty Green” seems to have be written for the radio, “Come Back” could be an unexpected hit (if these guys got some more national exposure). There’s a lot more going on in this song, but in an almost Led Zeppelin-esque fashion, all of the intricate riffs and changes in rhythmic feel all come together under the underlying groove that digs down deep into the listener’s soul making it impossible for them not to want to move around. Petralli’s vocal lines are the most straightforward of the rhythmic patterns, which creates an incredibly syncopated feel, with the music and vocal lines playing with each other in a way that is almost hypnotic. A great example of this is the chorus, where Petralli’s quick paced, repetitious vocals weave with Jenkins’ sixteenth-note guitar runs and the changes in feel of the backbeat provided by Bock. In true White Denim fashion, the song takes a few turns during the bridge, which starts with a harsh Steely Dan feel, before turning into a late-70s Zeppelin homage. Even though the song is pretty intricate, it’s packaged really well and the underlying beat is consistent and easy to grasp. It’s also just plain fun to listen to, which makes me think this song could be something big for the band if it hits the masses the right way.

Similar to when I listen to D, it’s hard for me to not hear other bands in the songs on this album. The title track, “Corsicana Lemonade,” has elements of King Crimson mixed with ZZ Top, while “Limited by Stature” is a bit of Yes combined with something off of Brothers or El Camino by The Black Keys, which is probably aided by the fact that Petralli sounds a bit like Dan Auerbach. And then there’s “Cheer Up / Blues Ending” which sounds like a Stephen Stills song played by Humble Pie, before dissolving into an avant-garde outro.

Still, Corsicana Lemonade is pure White Denim, filled with musical chaos and abrupt twists and turns. They have just matured, reigning in and honing the chaos and intricacies of their music. Some fans may see this as the band “selling out,” but I see it as the band maturing and figuring out a way to get their music out to more people without changing who they are. The technical gifts of all four members are on full display throughout the album, and the intensity that the band is known for is still there, it’s just that they’ve learned how to focus it all and package it a little tighter.

But let’s be honest, none of this matters if the songs are not good, and thankfully they all are. This album is great, and even if it may not be the sonic masterpiece that D is, it shows that the band has definitely grown and seems to have found their sound. I’m just hoping they don’t stop here.

White Denim – D

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.