In 2009, Austin then-trio White Denim released an album called Fits, the contents of which could be summed up concisely but accurately by its title. A fun, raucous album of Minutemen-style funk-punk and classic rock pastiche, the record revealed an extremely itchy band, one that made little effort to stay in one place too long, whether that meant leaping instantaneously to faster tempos or playing fast and loose with their stylistic approach. Though its scrappy, race-to-the-finish style certainly made for an invigorating listen, it was also pretty exhausting, and ultimately seemed like an unsustainable path. In two short years, however, the band has made some considerable changes, the most important of which being the addition of second guitarist Austin Jenkins. And on last year’s free album Last Day of Summer, the now-quartet expanded into some new sonic territory, from jazzy instrumentals to some Tropicalia inspired numbers, portending some potentially great things for the band’s future.
The promise put forth on Last Day of Summer has solidified on fourth album D, resulting in the band’s most cohesive, intricate and tightly crafted recording. Much as the band’s previous efforts were largely showcases for the stellar instrumental interplay between bassist Steve Terebecki, drummer Josh Block and guitarist James Petralli, D finds the band solidly rounded out by the addition of Jenkins’ deft fretwork, and as such, there’s a much less explicit punk feel to the album and more that of a veteran classic rock ‘n’ roll band. With the enhanced warmth and clarity in the quality of the album’s production, it’s also the band’s best sounding album, allowing each stunning instrumental passage or harmonized lead to glimmer and shine.
On D, the band still maintains a playful and loose approach to their style, shifting between various takes on genre or influence. Yet those leaps seem less shuffled this time around, their sonic game of leapfrog coming off more seamless and easy. In the album’s first half, the band makes a brisk triathlon of the garage-y opener “It’s Him,” which is followed by the swirling psychedelic jam “Burnished,” and then transitions into the extended instrumental odyssey “At the Farm” without skipping a beat. The latter two flow into one another in overlapping fashion, almost as if two halves of the same piece of music. But just when the band’s instrumental dazzle appears to take over, they let in some space and some reverb on the lovely “Street Joy,” one of the album’s few ballads.
Toward the album’s second half, however, D really starts to get interesting. The dueling triplets of “Anvil Everything” give way to a trippy but melodic highlight, which segues into a tropical instrumental breakdown just a little before the three-minute mark. They get even jazzier on “River to Consider,” which juxtaposes Petralli and Jenkins’ hypnotic leads against a flute solo, and with “Drug,” Petralli sweetly croons acid-fried lines like “We aren’t looking for counsel/ we’re just looking for a place to dissolve” over more blissfully spiraling guitars. And on massive highlight “Is and Is and Is,” the band opens with some gorgeous Fleet Foxes-style acoustic noodling before exploding into a soulful and massive psych-rock stomp.
All of the explicit classic rock tropes at play on D, be they prog-rock explorations, hot-dog soloing or jazz breakdowns, have always been a part of White Denim’s sonic makeup. Here, however, they seem a bit more tailored and polished, though not overly glossy. The band is as gritty as ever, but more focused than ever, and as evident in highlights such as “Anvil Everything” and “Drug,” offering up some of their best songs to date.
Video: White Denim – “Drug”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.