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 an 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.