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White Denim

For a decade or so up until their sixth album (2016’s “Stiff”), American neo-psych/garage act WHITE DENIM were forever and a day limited to an indie audience, however, that changed when nonchalant Britons took the band into their hearts and minds. The trio/quartet’s problem was they didn’t quite fit easily into one genre or pigeonhole – there was definitely much more to their all-encompassing brand of hard-edged retro rock’n’roll.
Founded in Austin, Texas, in March 2005, drummer Joshua Block and singer/guitarist James Petralli had played in alt-rock act Parque Torche, whilst bassist/singer Steve Terebecki had cut his teeth with other locals Peace Train. The freewheeling WHITE DENIM had a finger in every pie, so to speak, and with the self-financed home-soil release in May 2007 of EP, `Let’s Talk About It’ (crossing paths with The STROKES or The HIVES), it was mightily clear they too wanted to open the garage door.
Subsequently signed to London-based Full Time Hobby Records, that very same title (b/w `Darksided Computer Mouth’) was duly unveiled as their first official UK single a year on. The exclusive WORKOUT HOLIDAY (2008) {*7} debut set – cut in their Silver Bullet studio caravan – earned the trio further brownie points in Britain for its heavy-handed energy and sonic soul; `Shake Shake Shake’, `I Can Tell’, the funky `All You Really Have To Do’ and the softer `Sitting’, were perfect examples of their dexterity, while the `WDA’ track sounded as if they’d invited MEAT PUPPETS and The MINUTEMEN into the studio. Meanwhile, a few months down the line, American buyers were belatedly catered for by way of a dramatically altered version of the set as “Exposion”.
Give or take a few months in its transatlantic release schedule, 2009’s FITS {*8} was nigh-on exactly what it said on the tin; a sprawling smorgasbord of garage rock, psychedelic-blues, prog, stoner, free-jazz, AM-soul and the kitchen stink (sic). Petralli could obviously turn his larynx lubes to anything fired at him, and on `I Start To Run’, `Say What You Want’, `All Consolation’ and the tripped-out `Sex Prayer, WHITE DENIM were becoming in vogue.
In between labels and the addition of second guitarist Austin Jenkins, there were more roots and branches to shake a hat at with the stop-gap, self-endorsed mp3, LAST DAY OF SUMMER (2010) {*6}; `Home Together’, `I’d Have It Just The Way We Were’, `Our Get’ and others worthy of further inspection. If there burgeoning fanbase had thought they’d lost out, their new bosses at the Downtown (or Cooperative) imprint afforded it a belated release on the back of fourth album, D (2011) {*8}.
Recorded between Lakeside Studio and Mob House in Austin, WHITE DENIM were free to unzip their proverbial pants and get on in the groove, intertwining a warmer production value in the strums and twists of muscular melodies such as `Burnished’, `Drug’, `It’s Him’, `At The Farm’, `Street Joy’, `Anvil Everything’, `River To Consider’ et al.
A support slot to WILCO resulted in the great JEFF TWEEDY offering his services on two tracks (`Distant Relative Salute’ and `A Place To Start’) for fifth official album, CORSICANA LEMONADE (2013) {*8}. Taking on a soulful Southern blues/glam a la ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND or The BLACK CROWES (Jenkins’ country motifs were its catalyst), main producer Jim Vollentine polished between the buttons of the raw-some WHITE DENIM; turning in organic, hippie wranglers such as `At Night In Dreams’, `Come Back’, the title track and the lonesome single, `Pretty Green’. James Petralli (drummer Block in tow) then opted to moonlight as BOP ENGLISH; unveiling “Constant Bop” in 2015.
Having hit the lower regions of both the US and UK charts, expectations were high in anticipation of album six, the Ethan Johns-produced STIFF (2016) {*8}; and though it dented the UK Top 20 (under Sony Records), the set ironically “stiffed” for Downtown back home. The re-modelled WHITE DENIM were now without Jenkins and stalwart Block; their respective berths taken by Jonathan Horne and Jeffrey Olson. The record marked yet another change of groove; the colours and shades decidedly bluesy, soulful and glam-stoner of such ramshackle and rhythmic `There’s A Brain In My Head’, `Had 2 Know (Personal)’, `Holda You (I’m Psycho)’ and the co-scribed Cass McCombs closer, `Thank You’.
Signed to effervescent indie imprint City Slang on both sides of the Atlantic, and taking on drummer Conrad Choucroun (ex-NRBQ) and keyboardist Michael Hunter, Petralli and Terebecki dispatched WHITE DENIM’s seventh set, the UK Top 30 PERFORMANCE (2018) {*8}. One could imagine the glam/stoner/jazz-funk 70s by way of T. REX or THIN LIZZY for their knotty inspirations; examples for all to see on opener `Magazin’, the title track, `Fine Slime’, `Double Death’, `Moves On’ and `It Might Get Dark’.
The following March, the group wrapped up some recent outtakes in the shape of companion set, SIDE EFFECTS {*7}. A swaggering neo-psych record that showcased ones-that-nearly-got-away, `NY Money’ (think TORTOISE in bed with BLUE OYSTER CULT), late 60s classic-rock throwback `Hallelujah Strike Gold’ (MOBY GRAPE-meets-BLACK KEYS), and the head-spinning KRAVITZ-ish `Shanalala’, the album was one of the best odds ‘n’ sods recordings for some time. The whole thing only lasted just under a half-hour, but although sprawling and ill-fitting at times, the outta sight WHITE DENIM peeled back several hidden threads that were too good to keep tucked up in their closet.
© MC Strong GRB Sep2018-Apr2019

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