“We thought, what’s the fundamental thing that made us want to get into a van and quit our terrible jobs and start this whole thing in the first place?” Asks virtuosic guitar-slinger and White Denim frontman James Petralli when discussing their seventh LP, Stiff. “And the answer was loud, fast-playing, rock and roll”
Six studio albums in and Petralli and co. have covered a lot of ground since the group’s original line-up first started tracking D.I.Y demos in their 1940’s Spartan Trailer; they’ve toured alongside Wilco, Arctic Monkeys and Tame Impala, pulled off arguably one of the most electrifying Later… With Jools Holland performances (after maybe, At The Drive In’s ramshackle rendition of ‘One Armed Scissor’) and they can still flawlessly shift at an instants notice between time signatures, genres, even between decades, musically. On top of this, last year under the pseudonym Bop English, Petralli also released his long time coming blissed-out solo LP, Constant Bop to general acclaim.
Stiff springs into life with the spiraling trail blaze of ‘Had 2 Know (Personal)’, which wishes bon voyage to former bandmates Austin Jenkins and Josh Block (now touring as Leon Bridges backing band) as Petralli lets loose with “But you had to know you were gonna let it go/You coulda let me know, coulda made it personal”. Single ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah)’ settles into a slack funk groove, as the band locks together effortlessly, each lapping over the other with sumptuous, rippling drum fills or psych-disco infused stabs, all highlighted by pristine production at play.
‘Holda You (I’m Psycho)’ goes even further with the ecstatic riff interplay, as the most arresting and uplifting four minutes on the record fly by. ‘Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)’ draws from the neo-soul sway of Donnie & Joe Emerson and 10cc, whereas ‘(I’m The One) Big Big Fun’ seems more comfortable sauntering alongside White Denim’s more modern contemporaries like Matthew E. White and Devendra Banhart, at his smoothest and most syrupy.
12-bar blues number ‘There’s A Brain In My Head’ even occasionally nods towards Mod-ish influences like The Jam’s ‘Start’, fed through a day-glo, kaleidoscopic filter. Surprisingly enough though, the most malleable, charming aspect of the record is Petralli’s vocals, which can exhibit both ball-to-the-walls southern rock swank, with Hendrix like inflections, and luscious, tastefully subdued soul. Overall, Stiff is the sound of a band hooking up and settling into a groove – something they’ve done many times over to prodigious effect – but never before has it felt this free-spirited, revitalised and effortless.
Stiff is out now via Downtown Records.