Full Time Hobby
out October 20th
There's an excitement in knowing that something could go kablooey at any moment. It's like the climax of an action movie—our hero is defusing a time bomb or trying to land a flaming aircraft, and our hearts pound as we wait to see what happens.
I get this same sense of climactic suspense from White Denim's volatile new album, Fits (available in the U.S. on October 20th). The rattletrap songs on the first half of this rattletrap album could break down into entropic chaos at any point—kablooey! Even now, after plenty of listens, I go through the album's first four tracks half expecting front man James Petralli to howl at his band, "Stop, stop, stop—let's try it again from the beginning!"
Petralli howls plenty of other stuff during the front third of Fits, while he and bassist Steve Terebecki lay down their jittery riffs and drummer Joshua Block violates my ear canal with his drumsticks. Roughly.
If you ever gave a listen to the Austin, Texas trio's breakout 2008 debut album, Exposion, you'll immediately recognize the first few tracks. The riffs are just catchy enough to justify writing full songs around, the shouty vocals lend a loose sense of melody, and the centerpiece of each song—the percussion—barely holds it all together through each song's myriad time- and key-signature changes.
By Track 5 of Fits, though, both listener and band desperately need a reason to stick with the album, and White Denim delivers it with the catchy head-bopper "I Start to Run." The drumming is no less spastic, the bass groove is no less twitchy, and Petralli is no less howly, but the song comes together brilliantly and, more importantly, cohesively. It's a starting point from which White Denim launches into the brilliant back half of the album.
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The ethereal "Sex Prayer" loops and bobs through time signatures, at times a smooth reggae groove, at others a cut-time Phish-ish guitar jam. The track morphs gently into "Mirrored And Reverse"—if you don't hear this track while shopping at The Gap, it's either because some music programmer isn't doing his job or you don't shop at The Gap. It's a cool, swinging number that makes me want to shop for chinos, and I mean that in the best way.
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By Track 8, the delightful, jangly "Paint Yourself," and 9, the tender "I'd Have It Just The Way We Were," you'll have forgotten all about the White Denim of earlier in the album. And then Track 10 will sneak up and remind you with a swift kick in the pants. "Everybody Somebody" is far and away the best track of the album, a funky, soulful, timeless groove that I'll be listening to for years to come. It's by any measure a "hit song" in the traditional sense, and I'll be interested to see how White Denim's fans react to it.
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Fits is nicely rounded out with a '60s crooner love song, "Regina Holding Hands," and the plaintively jammy "Sync'n," which crescendos into a nifty "la la la" shout-along outro.
Throughout the album, White Denim snatches tidbits from seemingly every musical genre and time period. So it's only fitting that Petralli spends many of his scarce lyrics singing about identity and sense of self in songs like "Everybody Somebody" and "Paint Yourself": "You're always looking at yourself deciding what you do not want to see/You paint yourself late at night, you rewrite your history."
The duality of the album makes it seem like the boys of White Denim looked at themselves after recording the first four tracks and decided they wanted to see something different, and thank goodness for that. Tracks like "I Start to Run" (#5), "Everybody Somebody" (#10), and "Regina Holding Hands" (#11) could win over quite a few fans for White Denim (they won me over), but it will take a bit of patience for first-time listeners to make it that deep into the album.
I hate to evaluate an album by focusing on something as mundane as track ordering, but the ordering of the tracks derails Fits for me. In my future listens of the album, of which there will be many, it will be tempting to start with Track 5, "I Start to Run." And yet, the first four tracks are the most "White Denim" of the album, so perhaps it's only fitting that those songs, and all the volatility and tension that come with them, should be placed front and center.
60-69 — Very Good. Fans of the genre or artist will like this, but it is far from perfect. (Rating Scale)