The new rise of garage rock in Austin has been well-documented over the last few years. Fueled by
the city’s famed live music scene, the bands at its forefront seem less concerned with preserving retro aesthetics than steamrolling their audiences in the catchiest ways possible. White Denim rode that approach to underground notoriety with weird velocity on its third full-length, Fits. D suggests that something curious has happened to this band, as it refines Fits‘ bare wires into a clearer, deceptively docile approach in ways beyond increased production polish.
The addition of second guitarist Austin Jenkins to White Denim’s previous trio format may have influenced that shift in sound, as he and vocalist-guitarist James Petralli have a few melodic moments on D that suggest the Allman Brothers as a much bigger source of inspiration than previously guessed. One thing hasn’t changed a bit, however: All members of White Denim can play circles around most of their indie-rock and garage contemporaries. Steve Terebecki has quietly become one of the best bassists in indie, uncoiling distorted lines into most of the band’s best hooks with hyper-dexterity. Drummer Joshua Block also surprises, with tasteful fills and deft changes in time signature combining to form an uncommon presence behind his kit. And it’s clear that the band is still learning how to make the most of Jenkins and Petralli together, as many of D‘s songs seem to have started out as single-guitar arrangements.
D throws its biggest curveballs early, as the gorgeous folk anthem “Street Joy” sounds like White Denim trying to beat Local Natives at that band’s own game. There’s also the straight-up instrumental “At The Farm” that’s noticeably cleaner, more playful and closer to jam-band territory than anything heard on the already jam-heavy Fits. While it’s not terribly memorable at first, it sneaks up to a satisfying climax and suggests the band would do well on a festival bill with pure jam bands like Disco Biscuits or even Lotus. But the try-anything approach doesn’t always work here: “River To Consider” brings a Jethro Tull-like flute to the forefront, and while it’s a ballsy move, the song itself is a forgettable momentum killer.
Despite that awkward first half, D connects itself neatly back to the crazed energy of Fits with the one-two punch of first single “Drug” and “Bess St.” The latter is D‘s moment of singular brilliance, taking the band’s rock and jam facets and throwing them in a prog blender. It’s the catalyst for the record to rev into second gear, and White Denim gleefully rides that inertia through the fist-pumping chorus of “Is And Is And Is” before finally leaning back for the album’s closing minutes. This band can do some serious damage with the gas pedal down, and while D is undoubtedly a grower, it’s unfortunate that White Denim’s experimental tendencies don’t always lend themselves equally well to good songs. Once the band fully realizes how to work as a quartet, however, its output will be just as impressive as its older, louder work.