Creating a proper psychedelic jam record is an arduous task to say the least. I’ve witnessed countless cases of frustration as so-called ‘jam sections’ extend well in to the 3 or 4-minute mark while band members find themselves immersed in a musical world that isn’t nearly as accessible or interesting as they seem to think. Another school of thought might suggest that the band has chosen to give a decisive middle finger to the mainstream and release a record they find interesting regardless of whether or not you enjoy it. Either way, there’s something to be said for fulfilling musical expression that remains accessible to the listener, and that’s exactly what White Denim have accomplished with their fourth formal full-length.
This four-piece out of Austin, TX have been defined as many things since their inception in 2006 and yet D, the group’s most recent release seems to provide palpable evidence that theirs is a sound far too peculiar to allow straightforward categorization. Pulling notable influence from musically adept bands such as Rush and Phish, the melodies and rhythms are intricately complex. Luckily this is a band that can pull it off; the obviously polished talent that each member exudes results in an unyieldingly tight and truly enjoyable wall of sound.
A perfect example lies in, “Anvil Everything,” a song vaguely evocative of CSNY’s “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” and in “Burnished,” the album’s second track, odd rhythms and complicated bass lines prove this band is more than capable of pulling off a few tricks. In addition to admirable synergy, this band seems to find enjoyment in relentlessly strange song structures. Proof lies in “Bess St.” which features meter shifts from a straightforward 4/4 to a widely avoided 5/8 that might be just enough to make your head spin. Don’t think that this album is all oddballs and out-of-the-box concepts, though. “River To Consider” is a simpler, 70’s-esque track featuring Jethro Tull-style flute and a dancable Latin rhythm that would sound right at home on the soundtrack for Three’s Company.
Something else this band has (that most bands of their sort lack) is a strong lead singer. Admittedly, since the band’s first EP in 2007, James Petralli’s vocals have come a long way, but on this release they provide a previously unmatched element that I would consider one of the key factors in making this record accessible to listeners of all varieties. The music, while incredible, is far from straightforward and without actively searching for all the little details, it would be easy to let attention wander. Petralli’s voice, however, is smooth and simple in comparison to the musical backdrop in which it dwells.
Somewhere between Graham Nash, James Russell Mercer (The Shins) and Romeo Stodart (The Magic Numbers), Petralli’s voice seems to give the recreational listener (as opposed to the music fanatic) something to latch on to – something to focus on. Surely those benefits aren’t extended to purely instrumental tracks such as “At The Farm” but that’s not the majority of the songs on this release.
Whether you’re an adamant proponent of jam bands or consider yourself of the “IT’S JUST NOISE!” persuasion, I think you’ll find something to appreciate on this album. Some songs require more attention – more focus – from the listener, sure, but there are certainly a few tracks perfectly suited for placement on a relaxing mix tape. I think more than anything this LP will provide a bit of much-needed variety to an otherwise static musical landscape.