Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Texas' White Denim burst onto the scene after touring the world and storming 2008's SXSW festival, where they were one of the most talked about bands of the festival alongside Vampire Weekend and MGMT due to their fierce live show, and released an album shortly after ("Workout Holiday" in the UK, "Explosion" in the US). The album collected together all their demo's, and whilst being pretty good, felt very disjointed which I guess is no surprise. But the record got great reviews and all was fine. A year later they released their second record "Fits", and once again it got mostly great reviews, but it did not seem to get any recognition beyond that. No one really talked about this record and it seemed to slip through the cracks of the music world.
To me this was baffling in the extreme, but it happened to me too, as I only discovered it around June of this year. Maybe it was due to the fact that they were being labelled "Garage Rock", a term that has been incessantly overused over the last decade, and became a thing I got tired very quickly of. But I fell in love with it straight away, it was instant. "Fits" is a record that covers an incredible amount of ground and depth; no longer can you simply call this band "Garage Rock", for that is insulting. What you get here instead is the band zipping between many genres and feelings, from some sort of "Garage Prog" (yes, I made up a genre), to labyrinthine night time funk, to expansive psych, to breezy summer folk, all whilst making it seem like the most natural and easy thing in the world. It goes so much further than "Workout Holiday" could have even dreamed of, which seemed to be a collection of idea's rather than songs and definitely felt like almost every song was incomplete in some way. Not so on "Fits", every song seems to have fulfilled its potential and then some. In fact, songs such as "Radio Milk" goes further than you could ever imagine; there is no structure to speak of at all, and it breaks off into many different places, but amazingly at the same time never feeling forced at all, which it so very easily could have done.
The record seems to be split into two separate parts. Tracks 1-5 is just frantic Rock music of the highest order, whilst tracks 6-12 gives us something far subtler but no less incredible. The opening 5 track salvo is just intense, no "songs" to speak of in the traditional sense, but there are great singable hooks, such as the soaring psych vocal melody of "All Consolation" (not unlike a modern re-imagining of Roky Erickson) or the frantic shout of "I Start to Run", backed by simply sensational Rock music. In fact, these tracks reminded me of how Joyous Rock music can be, something which I had totally forgotten. It seems in recent times we have been taught to not love "Rock" music, for it is old and beyond cliché, for which I would still mostly agree. Most "Rock" music makes me cringe, especially modern "Rock" music, but their is definitely nothing clichéd or cringe-worthy about this band, it is just simply great, and pure fun. Which is what its supposed to be all about in the first place.
People have compared White Denim to The Minutemen, which is understandable: Both bands play in funny time signatures and are influenced by funk. But White Denim don't actually sound much like The Minutemen, in fact they don't sound like any one band at all and this is one of the reasons why they are just so great. The record turns a big corner on track 6 of the album, "Sex Prayer" (awful title), which fits somewhere between early Parliament and the Doors. A funky and cool instrumental, it is here where the records becomes far more subtle and more interesting. "Mirrored and Reversed" sees the band take their biggest plunge into Psychedelia, something that half of the record seemed to be threatening to do, and is all the better for it. This leads to the first of four (almost) acoustic, poppy tracks which makes up the rest of the record. People complaining of a lack of "Songs" will be pleasantly surprised by "Paint Yourself", "I'd Have It Just The Way We Were" and "Regina Holding Hands", all sounding not unlike The Isley Brothers or even the Doobie Brothers (God forbid, but this actually turns out to be a GOOD thing, somehow). These tracks are breezy, summery, singable and joyous all at the same time and all in a good way, with the band not losing their edge at all on either the music or vocals. "Regina Holding Hands" comes out as being the albums high point (cleverly being the albums penultimate track), and looking back, probably the Best Pop song of 2009. The "Pop" bit being the key that will no doubt surprise many who have heard this band and probably dismissed them.
For me, a band like White Denim is truly what has been missing from modern music recently. A band ambitious enough to write music that definitely challenges people (and no doubt the band too) but never loses the plot and always feels natural: A band able to cover so many different sides and genres whilst still sounding like the same band. The playing and instrumentation on this album is also incredible, Drummer Joshua Block attacks his drum kit like a mad man. I am not someone who gets off from listening to Steve Vai, but at the same time when we have a band like The Drums who can barely play chords, a certain instrumental prowess is warmly welcomed if it is done right. And it is certainly done right here. "Fits" definitely isn't for everyone, and it will probably alienate a lot of people but that doesn't take away anything from it. I would just like more current bands to take note of what White Denim are doing and what makes them such a brilliant musical unit. They could learn a lot.