For the entirety of their career so far, White Denim has been a band riddled with experimentation. Though their roots are planted considerably firmly in garage rock, since the release of 2009s Fits album, the band have been branching out into the world of available genres, dipping their feet into sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, blues, psych, and a prolific amount of in-betweeners. With their latest release Stiff, White Denim seem to have extracted all of their favorite parts from their repertoire and pushed those themes in a retro, funk and soul inspired direction.
Had 2 Know (Personal) is the opening track on the album, as well as being its lead single, and you can understand why upon further listening. White Denim made the smart choice of having the albums lead single and opening track as their most classically ‘them’ song, one that can ease listeners (fans in particular), into the album with a sense of familiarity, before plunging into its array of abstract themes. Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah) is a lead example of the bands new direction; silky and funky, it manages to be reminiscent of James Brown, and as it plays you feel yourself being dragged into the late 60s, with vocal riffs and keyboard chord progressions that invade your mind with images of oversized collars and flamboyant dance moves.
White Denims bold attempts at frequent genre hopping are certainly admirable. But around the mid-point of the album, their often muddled, patchwork stitched approach to songwriting begins to saturate the impact of the record. Somewhere between the jive-ready guitar riffs of Holda You (I’m Psycho), and the Queens Of The Stone Age meet Duran Duran approach of Mirrored In Reverse, the bands loop-the-loop direction becomes almost tiring to follow.
That is not to say however, that Stiff isn’t an album of well-presented songs. Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love) sees the four-piece dip into some ear-pleasingly soulful R&B, with its open bass line and groove-led drum patterns also being remindful of early Isley Brothers material. And though closing song Thank You has a slightly confused beginning of directionless instrumental jamming, an impressive guitar solo adds depth to a song that would otherwise be most suited to background noise in the elevator of a high-rise building. So there are certainly a few moments on this record to appreciate what the band have done, or have tried to do with it. It’s just a shame that a lack of coherence ultimately let them down.