24 September 2008

White Denim - 'Mess Your Hair Up'

Or talking about hype, as we were, there's White Denim, who emerged top of the pile in the most recent South by South West hype contest, something nobody on this island truly understands. I resisted because, well, you do, don't you, if you have any sense of your value as an individual human unit. But come on - or is that c'mon? - this record's great, pure and simple, and only the churliest of churls could not admit this, and although the boat has long departed and you all know this by now for yourselves, I felt these words banging against the inside of my skull about it and I needed a vent. Indeed, I now feel bad it's taken me a while to get onto this one in front of all four of our readership. (Can you let me know when your birthdays are, by the way? I'd like to make sure I send you cards.)

What we have here is the sound of a small group of young men who don't know there are any rules about what you are supposed and not supposed to do in music and aren't particularly interested in finding out what those rules may be. It was recorded in whatever the Texan equivalent of a shed is and it sounds like it. It has that raw, rough and readiness to it you look for in a debut record. There's dirt under its fingernails. It smells of sweat and puke and back of the Chevrolet sex with your cousin. There's bad beer, late nights and all being men together. One of the base ingredients here is dumb, ballsy, what-the-hell music, of the kind you find in early Who. And there’s a fair amount of grubby southern blues too, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in this. An obvious comparison is the Black Keys, back when they were on the mighty Fat Possum label and before they got old, clich├ęd and boring. But there's more going on here than that. They would also seem to have a fine sense of the dynamics of a tune and when to interfere with them. They use repetition and fracture to keep your expectations on their toes. Less is sometimes more, and it’s sometimes as interesting to take something away as add things. They have an understanding of space that reminds me more of classic dub reggae than anything else, and the same kind of homemade feel you got when people were working with limited technology, although obviously the rhythms are different.

Take this song, Mess Your Hair Up. It's a balls-out rock tune, alright. But then it starts, stops again, gets locked in a mad wah-wah loop, things drop out. What is more satisfying than a tune where you know all possibilities have been explored, and all within five minutes? Isn’t it frustrating when you feel there was a bit more in there, if only the band had done a little more digging?

So revivalist, yes, and involved in the business of fusion, perhaps, but the inventiveness and sheer evident love of what they’re doing in this conquered the hype. Naturally they’ll have used all their ideas up in one go and the next one will be flat and turgid as they take the humdrum path towards straight rock and drab Americana, but for now, this is one to cherish.

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