A driving armada of guitars announces the return of White Denim, as the opening thunder of “Had 2 Know (Personal) threatens the structural integrity of any stereo it meets. If there was a question as to whether the Austin-based quartet would survive the departure of drummer Josh Block and guitarist Austin Jenkins, (the pair chose to remain with Leon Bridges), this nine-song set leaves no doubt. With an animated approach that not only presents an application of all that is necessary and good about punk, but also its quirky concoction of ‘70s groove and angular rhythm, White Denim is powered up, uncaged, and raging.
Showing a noticeable love for parentheticals, the group slides into clap-your-hands funk on “Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah),” then reboots the bullet train for “Holda You (I’m Psycho),” the latter riding a James Petralli declaration that he’s coming for your girlfriend. Believe it. “Brain” synthesizes The Byrds and The Monkees, with jabbing fun-time organ and Rickenbacker twang, while “Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)” offers the argument that Bridges isn’t the only Texan that can seduce with soul. Petralli has always shown a versatile and passionate depth and range of voice; here, his falsetto wisps and fervent pleas are as commanding as ever.
The deconstructed slink of “(I’m the One) Big Big Fun” peels open the second half before an amphetamine-laced “Real Deal Momma” charges on the back of a swirling ‘60s organ. The hard edges of Steve Trebecki’s hurtling bassline and the ‘70s riff-crunching guitar of “Mirrored in Reverse” settles into a soundtrack siphoned from every custom van rolling down the highway. Then, a final, comprehensive “Thank You” pours everything into the pot: careening off-time drum breaks evolve into moody Moog volleys and doubled bottleneck slide, then back to the jazz odyssey, and they’re gone.
The personnel shuffle of the past two years was enough to make fans nervous. After all, Block was a founding member and producer, and Jenkins was a deft and symbiotic counterpart to Petralli’s distinctive guitar. Stiff not only dispels any concerns, it stomps all over them. White Denim is back and coming to take what’s theirs.