White Denim album artwork Stiff

Since their formation in 2006, garage-rock band White Denim have built up an extensive discography over the years that’s succeeded in both expanding the band’s sound and pleasing the ears of critics; the latter achieved particularly through their last album, ‘Corsicana Lemonade’.

Drummer Josh Block and guitarist Austin Jenkins have departed from White Denim since the success of the 2013 hit, prompting frontman James Petralli to rope in replacements Jeffery Olson and Jonathon Home in the recording of ‘Stiff’; perhaps the band’s most accessible album to date that digs into their roots while confidently exploring new territories – in particular, soul.

The explosive opener ‘Had 2 Know (Personal)’ is not only an energetic introduction to the album, but a slap to the face for new listeners of White Denim that coaxes you in through the band’s characteristic constant shift in time signature. The otherwise playful tone of the song resonates throughout the rest of ‘Stiff,’ especially in the synth-laden track ‘Real Deal Momma’ in which the band winds things down with the same enthusiasm in which they started.

But the album is arguably at its best with its handful of boogie rockers like ‘Mirrored In Reverse’, in which the song’s reverb-washed vocals provide the cleaner edge to Steve Terebecki’s distorted bass. The rhythm section further stands out in ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)’, justifying the comparison to Redding and Mitchell which has followed White Denim since their inception. Most impressively though is Petralli’s vocals on the track, with the chorus “be yourself, try to have a good time” delivered with such Curtis Mayfield-like clarity that it’s impossible not to give in to the song’s charm.

‘Stiff’’s soulful direction takes a firmer stance halfway through with the appropriately named ‘Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)’. Here Petralli’s smooth vocals almost lean towards Marvin Gaye – but rather than taking any liberties, he smartly does so just enough to make it work. The almost flawless song is perhaps only spoilt by the 45 second outro, made up of some unnecessary synth tones that nearly kill the song’s atmosphere rather than provide anything new.

It’s the more drastic directions White Denim take on ‘Stiff’ that are maybe the most rewarding; such as on ‘Holda You (I’m Psycho)’, the most aggressive track on the album where the band delve into a Zeppelin-fused jam complete with a wailing guitar solo by Home. It’s a standout presence in the song that takes the guitar away from the grounded groove-based role it’s established throughout the rest of the LP.

A more surprising change of sound however is in the album’s final track ‘Thank You’, a song in which the quirky, almost math-rock intro gradually settles into a more comfortable groove. Petralli makes another nod towards his soul influences in simple lyrics such as “I’m gonna find a way to your heart”; strangely though, the line “thank you, we made it” seems more like an ode to listeners than anything else.

The general back-to-basics approach of ‘Stiff’ gives White Denim a refreshingly new sound, which found in the band’s 8th album is surely a welcome gift for fans. The subtle expansion into the soul genre should also be enough to interest new listeners for White Denim, and proves that after 10 years the Austin-based band still have the inventiveness that always makes them worth a listen.

‘Stiff’ is out now on Downtown.

About The Author

Josef McDermott