(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, January 8, 2010

CD review - White Denim, Fits (2009)

This seems to be my week for Austin bands. White Denim is a hard rocking Austin trio with a lot of tricks in their bag. Their last album, Fits, melds a number of genres into an unique cohesion. As a whole, the sound is quite retro, with a heavily reverbed vocal mix and a little fuzziness that contrasts sharply with the sterile studio sounds favored today. A number of the harder edged songs sound over saturated in gain, giving a tape distortion sound that you just don't hear that much anymore. Combined with the retro stylistic elements, it's situated firmly in the late '60s or early '70s. There a lot of hard rock, psychedelia, and a bit of blue eyed soul on this disc, with references to Steppenwolf, the Doors, and Al Kooper.

The album is split into two sections. The first section hits the acid rock groove hard, while the second emphasizes the soul vibe. It's a bit jarring when it switches, but there's still some crossover. There are no weak songs here. White Denim plays hard and delivers some great music.

All Consolation dredges up Pictures of Matchstick Men (Status Quo), with the thick layered vocal sound and trippy groove. The wailing wah-wah guitar is great, but the drum work is especially impressive. It's a spirited performance, with a lot of tight rolls and heavy cymbal work.

Say What You Want bridges the gap between a retro hard rock Steppenwolf sound and Superunknown-era Soundgarden. A driving beat with touch of feedback guitar, this pounds steadily and then slides into a more psychedelic mood. Melodic bass anchors a droning guitar, with bits of fake sitar and grungy noise. This is great head music and it would be even better live.

The peak of the rocking half is the moody, uptempo Mirrored and Reverse. The bass and keys evoke a strong Doors vibe. The vocals have been processed with echo, compression, and slight distortion to the point of being wispy. The fills are heady and inspired, featuring twinned guitar parts meandering around each other. The song drifts off into a fake ending before returning and building into a climax ending. I've listened to this a dozen times today and I'm not tired of it at all. It's also cool how it leads directly into the looser Jeff Buckley sound of Painting Yourself.

On the soulful section, most of the songs are sweeter, with no distortion, although still maintaining a snappy tempo. Everybody Somebody shifts back into the first half by bringing back the distorted guitars to thrash out a soul rock groove that reminded me of Sly Stone. Acid rock twinned guitar lines run through this, but it all fits together.

Then the mood shifts sharply with Regina Holding Hands. Folky acoustic guitar grounds a pretty arrangement. Something about the phrasing or the choppy acoustic rhythm reminds me of Jackie Blue by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. That lasts right until the chorus, which dives right into a My Morning Jacket sound: loose drums with interesting fills, soulful singing, and a similar approach for the electric guitar sound. White Denim has fused a couple of things together here into a seamless whole. The start doesn't foreshadow the ending, but the flow is natural.

White Denim is touring this month in the US. I plan to see them in Denver at the Larimer Lounge (1/27/10). Catch them if you get the chance.

What to recommend here? With two distinct sections and moods, maybe Kamikazes with a Bass ale chaser would work.

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