White Denim seem like a band that’s been trying to find themselves since the very beginning. The Austin four-piece have traversed in several musical styles, including psych rock, fusion, jazz, blues, soul, and even a bit of country pickin’, too(they are southern boys, after all.) Some of their earlier albums felt as if they were on the verge of ripping at the seams due to these constant moves and shifts from one genre to the other. They were well adept at those changes, but sometimes it was rather hard on the brain to digest it all. Their 2011 album D was the high point of their beginning, with an album that flew here, there, and everywhere. It was also the kind of album where a band needs to regroup and figure out where to go from there.
Enter 2013s Corsicana Lemonade.
With Corsicana, White Denim peeled back all the genres and layers and honed in on what made them special: their musicianship. That record was a tight bit of rock and roll, with the country swagger mixed heavily with some southern soul and indie rock cred. The results were the most laid back and precise the band had ever sounded. 2016s Stiff continued that trend, with a healthy dose of grooves and riffs thrown in to make it stand on its own.
White Denim have returned with their best record yet. The slim and fit Performance clocks in at 30 minutes and zero fat. The band has found that balance between the trippy psych, precise musicianship, and country soul that they’ve flirted with since the beginning. Performance lands somewhere between Dixie Dregs, Allman Bros, and Zappa, and quite comfortably I might add.
“Magazin” opens the record with a killer groove and some wonky horns in the chorus. White Denim never go at a song in standard terms. There’s always something unique or slightly off-kilter in the sonics and “Magazin” is no different. There’s a slightly overblown feel to it, as if the speaker is blown in your F-150 as you’re listening to it. It gives the song a bit of an ethereal feel, as does the echo effect 3/4 the way thru. Title track “Performance” shows off the tightness of this band. Little pauses and time signature changes is the band’s trademark, and this great track continues that trend. This track almost veers into Motion City Soundtrack territory at times, if that makes sense. It works. “Fine Slime” rolls in to remind you that you are listening to White Denim, after all. I absolutely love this song. There’s a perfect balance of weird, musical prowess, and Petralli’s soulful delivery. The guitar breakdown in the middle is the bees knees. I think I could just sit and listen to these guys jam for hours and I’d call it a successful day.
Elsewhere, “Double Death” has an almost Sanford and Son Quincy Jones funk to it. This is a junkyard groove tune that will satiate the most funk-deprived of appetites. A whole album of this would be fine with me. “Moves On” is a pedal to the floor rock and roll banger with wonky synths thrown in with some slick guitar work. “It Might Get Dark” is just a hell of a fun song. Classic rock and roll with the White Denim mojo poured all over it. A mix of southern swagger and rock and roll boogie makes this the kind of song that should have been playing on stations all over the US back in the late-70s. “Good News” ends this musical trek on a wistful note. Chiming acoustics and Petralli’s soulful croon sort of brings us back to earth and look back on the journey lovingly.
White Denim are building a legacy. They’re not trying to conquer the world every time out. They’re honing their sound and exploring musically, finding what fits and what doesn’t. With Performance, these Austin guys may not have conquered the world, but they’re that much closer to building one hell of a musical legacy.
8.2 out of 10