White Denim


Rating: 4.5/5.0

Label: Full Time Hobby

Fits, the third full-length from Austin’s White Denim, is one of those rare albums that, upon its conclusion, renders pretty much every other CD, mp3 or record in your music library temporarily impotent. Where a collection like Exile on Main St. found such superhuman strength in the consistent quality of its sprawl, or as Stankonia did in its heroic reinvention of music that could be described as both ‘critically-acclaimed’ and ‘millions-selling,’ Fits comes to us from a handful of Texans, obviously bombarded with powerful, strange gamma rays, enabling them to imbue this record with a gonzo ebullience, informed by a mastery of whatever musical languages that can be spoken through that most ancient of rock ‘n’ roll line-ups: the power trio.

Formed by the self-cannibalization of two Austin bands known as Parque Touch and Peach Train, White Denim have been described, however moronically, as “the thinking man’s party band” (to wit: Blue Oyster Cult were “the thinking man’s heavy metal band”). This can be explained by the incredible, bop-like interplay between singer/guitarist James Petralli, bassist Steve Terebecki and drummer Joshua Block whose quicksilver songs are hard to verbally pigeonhole into an adequate, one or two word label; instead, they run breathlessly from genre to genre and often stop on a dime, seemingly on a whim, in pursuit of a completely different groove or feel.

Lead-off single, “I Start to Run,” starts with a quick-stepping beat from Block and a ferocious bassline from Terebecki, whose work makes one reconsider the bass’ role in a way that perhaps no other bass player has since Death From Above 1979’s Jesse Keeler. Petralli’s paranoid cries are punctuated by his own quick, distorted, staccato stabs on guitar. Just after he finishes shouting “I feel like someone’s listening to the song in my head” the same sort of cheeseball electronic tom beat heard in so many bad disco records sounds and soon, the song gets even quicker, with Petralli’s guitar tone seemingly turning into a series of liquid wah effects, before the track slows down into a hazy, dreamy mid-section, finally resulting in some crunchy riffing and each instrument slowly dying out. This is but one of Fits’ 12 songs.

Immediately following is the dubby “Sex Prayer,” its spacy organ giving way to a fuzz guitar’s creamy sustain and the sound of innumerable, nameless percussion instruments. “Mirrored and Reversed” comes along at a gallop, sounding like the sight of seeing Vanishing Point’s Dodge Challenger slowly appear on the horizon, out of heat mirages. Elsewhere, “Radio Milk How Can You Stand It” opens the record with a rabid barrage of riffing and insistent vocals before screeching to halt, only to float up into space with multi-tracked, reverbed vocals and a vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding riff. “All Consolation” follows in this vein, sounding like the kind of giant, grand psyched-out hard rock that Soundgarden would hint at on Louder Than Love. “Say What You Want” features the kind of sweaty riffing one would expect from Mountain, only I don’t know that Leslie West ever recorded a version of “Mississippi Queen” with a sudden jam session, led by a guitar sounding like a sitar.

It’s never an easy thing to describe music via the printed page; I realize I’ve only begun to describe the skeletons of songs, rather than have you meet them, flesh and blood, for yourself. That’s the only way you can begin to feel some of the same excitement with which White Denim recorded Fits. The record sounds not only the product of guys genuinely passionate about writing, playing and recording music but also of guys passionate about pop music itself; Fits proves that guitar, bass and drums are alive, well and ripe for exploring the spectrum of pop music without bowing to postmodern pastiche. Excitement sounds and feels good.

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