(7 out of 10)
At what point does a waterfall of surprises become just another drowning crush of predictable unpredictability? It’s a question that Austin-based White Denim has been wrestling with for much of their five-year existence, and it’s one that they’ve yet to come to answer completely. On D, the band’s fourth full-length album, they once again seem determined to jam just about every sonic element from all the FM-oriented records released between 1966 and 1976 into a vaguely modernized template. Yes, “Street Joy” quotes the melody from “Hey Hey, My My,” the band busts out a Jethro Tull-style flute riff on “River to Consider” (and it’s not Tull-style just because it’s flute … it legitimately sounds like a bit that Ian Anderson would play), and a cut like “Bess St.” splits the previously vast canyon of difference between Foghat-style boogie-rock and the noodly tempo complexities of King Crimson.
So yes, just as with White Denim’s previous releases, there’s a lot to unpack on D — if, of course, you even want to bother. The alternative is to just give up on trying to figure out exactly where these guys are coming from and just let their relaxed rock ’n’ roll virtuosity work its magic. Because at the end of the day, D manages to show White Denim doing one very specific thing: being White Denim. At this point in the game, all those influences and touchstones have jelled into a sound that’s both easily identifiable and quite unique, and though it’s still occasionally jarring in its schizophrenia, it’s one that manages to be consistent on its own terms. In fact, the few moments when D missteps most obviously are those when the band settles into a relatively straightforward and conventional groove — like, say, the gentle, Blitzen Trapper-ish acoustica of album-closer “Keys.”