Since they emerged as scrappy synapse-fryers in 2007 with their noise-punk EP ‘Let’s Talk About It’, White Denim have yanked us down every musical avenue possible.
In that time, the Texans have morphed into prolific psych-rockers, mashing together kaleidoscopic ’60s and ’70s pop, funk and rock, and dabbling in flailing free-form jazz. They’re the kind of band who spew out several nuggets of off-kilter gold before most of us have managed to have a morning coffee, so it makes perfect sense that they would have a trove of unreleased music squirrelled away. On their eighth album ‘Side Effects’, they have rummaged deep into those vaults (aka frontman and guitarist James Petralli’s car glove box) for forgotten treasure.
“I keep a few CDs of demos and rough mixes in my car, and when the radio gets unbearable, I’ll put them on to see if I feel anything,” he has said, explaining the origins of ‘Side Effects’, maintaining that “just because these tracks weren’t the right fit for the previous records, [it] doesn’t mean that they couldn’t go on to be great in the right context.”
In places, the band’s restoration job is brilliant. For a start, it would have been a serious tragedy to let a mind-boggler such as ‘Hallelujah Strike Gold’ fester away in an archive somewhere. By a minute and half into the track, they’ve switched up the tempo three times, traversing a labyrinth of hand claps, bizarre animal noises and a verse that sees Petralli croon, “shut your eyes and eat your beans.”And that’s before squiggly brass comes in to rip all over the song’s final half.
On ‘Introduce Me’, the band weave a similarly noodling, phantasmagoric tapestry of tone, complexity and sampled beats that will slot right into their notoriously tight live sets. The highlight though is ‘NY Money’, which starts with a spiralling groove, shoots out of your hands like a slippery bar of soap, and ends up on a breezy, open-topped American road trip with The War On Drugs.
Of course, when bands start rummaging in their attic for material, there’s always the risk that what was stored up with the Scalextric was left there for a reason. Certainly, ‘Out Of Doors’ and ‘Shanalala’ feel like inconsequential filler that could have stayed where they were. In particular, the latter ties itself in frazzled knots and never really gets going. And with ‘Side Effects’ being a collection of reimagined songs from different periods in the band’s history, rather than original material, there’s an inevitable whiff of the disconnected B-sides collection about it. That’s not helped by the fact the band worked with five different drummers, including new-ish permanent percussionist Conrad Choucroun, over the album’s nine tracks.
Still, what White Denim’s second record in eight months proves is that they’ve got an unbelievably amount of ideas, and they’re a band who are still well worth following down the rabbit hole.