Prosaically, White Denim have chosen to name this album D – the fourth letter of the alphabet – as it’s their fourth. The lack of imagination that this naming implies, however, is the only such instance that will be found on this open, upbeat, deceptively-intricate delight.
On initial listens this seems to be an album full of simple, positive, ’60s-influenced, guitar-led music: no bad thing. The West Coast feel of Drug and Is And Is And Is evoke that blissed-out hippy era, the first half of Is And Is And Is, in particular recalling The Mamas And The Papaswith its laid-back mellowness. Drugs is simple in theme as well as melody: “We can talk drugs / We can take drugs” the message; while the guitars sing out, riff out then wig out on the solo segment. Bess St, too, is relatively straightforward; this time to the extent that it is one of the album’s less interesting tracks.
As with many of the better releases, though, the more that you listen to D, the more complexity reveals itself. The relatively recent recruitment of a second guitarist, Austin Jenkins, looks to have been an important enhancement, as the textured interplay and variety of sounds and moods begin to emerge. Burnished, for example, features an unusual upward-spiralling guitar sequence, followed by some strident waka-waka psychedelic riffing, before switching to a high, melodic guitar tune that is close to afrobeat in style. The same can be heard on River To Consider, a terrific mix of latin and African rhythms and sounds: a clever, mutating, shape-shifting track. Street Joy (one the album’s standouts) features both a quiet acoustic guitar opening, and some slow improvised electric sections. Anvil Everything’s guitar-work is frenetic, the galloping pace culminating in a dual-guitar duel.
The complexity of rhythms also adds to the texture. It’s Him opens the album, initially a soft-rocking garage-y number, then flips half way through as the time signature changes to become something more experimental, a little jerky, a little post-punk. Is And Is And Is switches between two different rhythms, each one coming with its own distinct style (first the sun-kissed California vibe, the second a heavier Led Zeppelin feel). The percussion is the star of At The Farm, the tension between the drumming and the fuzzy, incantatory riffs and rhythms really carrying the track, the extravagant solo drum fills driving this instrumental track onwards.
James Patralli and Steve Terebecki’s vocals are often subjugated to the wealth of other things that are going on in the music: unassuming, sufficiently tuneful and pleasant – bluesy or with gently harmonising – but never truly carrying a track. The lyrics too, often of a surrealistic bent, seem to serve more as adornments rather than the main heart of what’s happening here.
However, when what is happening is music of such deceptive detail, complexity and straight-out elaborate beauty as that found on Burnished, Street Joy and Drugs (to name just three of the best tracks) then that seems a minor concern. This is an album which bears repeated listening, and which deserves to become more than just a summer soundtrack; but rather one of those releases that can be revisited again and again, with each listen revealing new details and delights.