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White Denim - Side Effects (Album Review)

Wednesday, 03 April 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Pooneh Ghana

Hot on the heels of 2018’s ‘Performance’, White Denim’s latest record is a terse collection of previously unfinished rock tunes, rich in texture, tone and innovation. Though their sound remains fundamentally derivative, there is a lot to like in a short LP that straddles indie, prog, psych and alternative rock.

‘Side Effects’ opens with the rambunctious Small Talk (Feeling Control), a joyous toe tapper made for grungy clubs and highway speeding, before boldly sliding into the spiky Hallelujah Strike Gold. This track snakes around in 5/4, combining shouty megaphone vocals and Frank Zappa guitar riffs. It’s excellent, technical rock, and lays down a marker for the record as full and fast music.

Seemingly knowingly, we then stumble into War on Drugs territory with NY Money. This feels like a quixotic move from a band whose currency has been built on being edgy outsiders. The War on Drugs have become a become a bit of a byword for bland soft-rock over the past 18 months, so pastiching them seems to lack intellectual rigour.

The most likely intention is that White Denim are simply rejoicing in that rich open guitar sound, and creating their own. A more contrived intention could be that they are mocking the sound—showing how easily they can produce it—while inviting their audience to enjoy it ironically. That may be overthinking things, though.

Without skipping a beat, we then move into out-and-out prog rock with Reversed Mirror—the album’s best track. This instrumental lands somewhere between Yes, Thin Lizzy and Steely Dan, and provides the most satisfying craft exercise on the album, with time signature changes, elegant jazz chord switches and—that underused technique—bass and guitar riff matching each-other over several bars. It's great.

As an album, 'Side Effects' remains somewhat lightweight, but as a collection of musical case studies, it is a very well put together bit of work. It may lack a little depth, but it delivers thrills in abundance.

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