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If you ever see Austin’s White Denim live, there’s a fair chance that at some point in the evening you’ll witness the most rippin’ band on the planet. Still, the real shape-shifting beauty of White Denim has always been the range of contexts to which they apply their chops. They may do their share of free jammin’, but they are a song-first band. That collision of aesthetics defines their fourth release D, as well. These may be White Denim’s strongest songs yet, and the playful and inspired sense of arrangement and texture that the band applies in the studio simultaneously lends ballast and make these tunes soar.
The territory covered on D borders on mind-blowing at times. Lead guitarist James Petralli’s deft and funkily nimble-fingered fret work is built on a super-clean tone that evokes Groundhog Tony “TS” McPhee’s darting Stratocaster work on Who Will Save the World, some of Jimmy Page’s Presence and In Through the Out Door sounds, and Ollie Halsall’s work with Patto (he even nicks the guitar hook from Patto’s “Hold Me Back” on “It’s Him”).
The rest of the band—Joshua Block on drums, Steve Terebecki on bass, and newcomer Austin Jenkins on second guitar—are a fantastically cohesive and telepathic bunch. And the spacious production— which often has the clarity and atmosphere of the Flaming Lips’ grandiose later work—gives the band room to exhibit their teamwork and tasteful virtuosity.
In the hands of a less skilled and inspired bunch, D could have been a style-leaping train wreck. Instead, the band and the record leapfrog from hyperactive Skynyrd-as-prog breakdowns and melancholy Moody Blues-y balladry to passages reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s most fiery and illuminated moments with an ease and joyful sincerity that make this one of the most exciting and beguiling releases of 2011.