White Denim Scores High
It isn’t often that a band’s sound comes off as unique. All too often, the completely abstract is confused for originality — artists are often driven toward writing experimental or conceptual material because the straightforward starts to feel mundane. The results are often good, but it’s almost always apparent that within those blurred lines of abstract musical experimentation, some of the appeal is lost. So, we are left with a quandary: How does one make a rock album that is original without getting lost in abstraction?
The answer may have been discovered by White Denim. Their latest album, “D,” is their fifth studio album, but it is only the third released through a record label. And while this four-piece band (they were a power trio up until September of last year) may not have completely cracked the code to writing the perfect rock album, they have certainly gone the distance to produce something original.
The album as a whole is very fast-paced; out of 10 tracks, seven of them are upbeat and charged with rolling drum beats and leg-jerking rhythms. The album’s beginning doesn’t attempt to hide this; “It’s Him,” the first track, kicks off the album with a drum roll and a crash cymbal. The energy only rises from there.
The album’s midsection can be divided into a couple of different suites, each marked by how the songs are blended together. These aren’t thoroughly integrated like in grand musical suites of multi-movement song structures – but the ends and beginnings mesh together without silence between tracks.
The first of these mini-suites is comprised of the second and third tracks, “Burnished” and “At the Farm.” These songs follow the blasts of energy and mostly straightforward sound established by the album’s intro; guitarist and vocalist Joshua Block’s riffs are delivered as chirrups of bundled notes, an almost jazz-like delivery of six-stringed current.
The second block of uninterrupted sound arrives with the fifth, sixth and seventh tracks. “Anvil Everything,” one of the songs released before the album itself, progresses towards its end into an offbeat jam that evolves the funky charm of the previous block of songs into something much more rooted in the band’s jazz influences. The next song, “River to Consider,” is a decidedly afro-Cuban overlay on the band’s usual mélange of sound. This gem of syncopated brilliance has more time signatures than one can count on one hand (get it?) and delivers its main melody with the sweet, fierce chirring of a flute.
Though arguably the best track on the album, “River to Consider” is not a clear-cut winner. On the other side of the spectrum, one of the album’s only slow songs is a serious contender for this spot.
“Street Joy” is the fourth track on the album and separates the two aforementioned song-blocks. While its lack of that fast-paced electricity is apparent in the track, it only serves to heighten the appreciation for instrumentation that, in other songs, is too rushed to be fully understood. The song also shows off brilliantly the exact soulfulness in Block’s vocal style — its chorus is powerfully sincere without becoming overly morose.
These two songs tug in different directions for both the album and the band itself; on one side, “Street Joy” is a nearly perfectly executed ballad, while the syncopation and jazz influences on “River to Consider” play with a fire that is both unexpected and completely welcome to the band’s already-broad repertoire.
The only problem with such breadth of sound is that what is in between sometimes becomes convoluted. Though the two aforementioned tracks are the most distinguishable on the album, the rest of the tracks don’t necessarily share that same uniqueness.
The blended blocks of tracks and fast pace of the album don’t exactly help one differentiate between those other tracks, though each one manages to deliver something unique. They might not stand out as much as “River to Consider,” but each track still has a vast amount of personality in its own right.
White Denim’s sound was once described to me as indie-rock-nu-jazz, and that’s a pretty good description; throw in some funk and maybe a little bit of psychedelia and you might be able to begin to have a hold on what these guys are putting out. They certainly have dimensions, and it seems with “D” that they have only begun exploring each one of them.