The fiery bongo beat and pounding cowbell that set the pace for the wacky guitar riffs in White Denim’s “Small Talk (Feeling Control)” provide a near-perfect entrance to their newest musical adventure, “Side Effects.” The nine-track album, released March 29, takes the listener on a musical safari through all sorts of aural territory, including everything from spacey psychedelia to folky guitar picking.
The four-piece crew from Austin, Texas, would never let you guess they were only a quartet. Each song is jam-packed with layered melodies and intertwining guitar leads that leave the listener with a sea of tantalizing melodies to wander through.
White Denim’s lineup features a pretty standard guitar, bass, vocals, drums and keyboard, but it’s clear each member knows exactly how to get the most out of their instrument.
“Side Effects” marks the band’s ninth full-length album, providing yet one more in a long string of testaments to the band’s prolific career that spans back to 2008. Over that time span, the band has left no stone unturned when it comes to songwriting. Their wide-ranging array of styles and inspirations proves they’re more than some everyday rock band.
Similarly to James Dyson with the vacuum or Apple with the computer, White Denim seems to observe the sonic experimentation of more far-out bands like Thee Oh Sees or Wand and refine their results into rock songs that are more agreeable and palatable — yet still uncommon and interesting.
The resulting songwriting ends up somewhat reminiscent of a lot of classic progressive rock sounds like Rush or Yes. “Hallelujah Strike Gold” employs a 5/4 time signature and a speedy, pronounced guitar riff that sounds almost like Pink Floyd’s “Money” if Roger Waters had drank an extra strength 5-hour Energy before writing it.
Somehow, it seems like this album would be just as good at a family barbecue as it would be if you were tripping acid in 1970. Most of the writing and performance throughout the album pulls off its complexity with so much ease and attention to detail that it leaves its impact up to its listener. You could take the songs to be as complex or as simple as you’d like.
Vocals are never really at the forefront of these tracks, but the simple vocal lines prove to be complementary to the complexity carried by the luscious instrumentals. Whatever the style may be, the relatively straightforward vocals fit.
Since the band has mastered maximizing rock ‘n’ roll output within its four-member lineup, it seems they too have figured out how to get the most out of an album. “Side Effects” only runs for a brief 29 minutes, but the heavily hypnotic passages heard throughout stick the listener in a break in the space-time continuum. “So Emotional,” for example, ends with a minute-long escapade of synthesizers and slippery guitar tones that sound like something that would play as you won a go-kart race on an outer moon of Jupiter.
Throughout “Side Effects,” White Denim asserts that for them, crossing the lines between genres comes easily. However, it seems their real songwriting talent lies in their ability to blur those lines and make cohesive tracks that blend a variety of influences and sounds to make a flavorful guitar rock smoothie. Take a drink — the only side effect you’ll find is good music.