Since the arrival of quick-fingered guitarist Austin Jenkins, White Denim
has been able to expand and perform the increasingly complex arrangements written by frontman James Petralli. Growing to a four-piece ushered in the freedom for a string of releases that mark a drastic departure from their days as a chaotic and aggressive garage rock band. The band took the soul-pop sensibilities of “Paint Yourself” and “Regina Holding Hands” off of side B of their Downtown Records debut, Fits
, and ran with it, becoming much more funky and accessible, without losing their edge.
Their first with Jenkins was Last Days Of Summer, a collection of outtakes, instrumentals, and re-imaginings of previous songs that subverted straightforward pop music with jazz-minded drums and out-of-left-field compositions. Second was D, which employed Grateful Dead-style jams, Motown hooks, and a crisp production that showcased the near-virtuosic proficiency of the band. Corsicana Lemonade updates this change in direction while ranging closer to their roots. This time, instead of garage rock, White Denim looked to classic rock staples and the sunny charm of their home state of Texas as inspiration for the LP.
Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, a fan who invited the band to open for Wilco on a leg of their 2012 tour, produced and mixed two songs on Corsicana Lemonade. Those tracks were hashed out in his Loft studio in Chicago, while the rest were recorded back in Austin with local producer Jim Vollentine. Lead single “Pretty Green” is one of the Tweedy-produced tunes, with chugging, bluesy guitars and a triumphant hook that Petralli’s voice soars on. It’s a classic rock throwback that makes those influences sound exciting in the same way that early tunes from revivalists like the Black Keys and the White Stripes did—maybe even better.
Opener “At Night In Dreams” recalls the guitar theatrics of Jailbreak era Thin Lizzy, bursting with a circular, fuzzy lead that’s both hypnotic and heavy. Lyrically, like much of White Denim’s recent output, a high proportion of Corsicana Lemonade focuses on growing older while still figuring things out. “I know you think that it’s easy to change, but it’s a symptom of age,” Petralli sings. Since the band has all passed 30 years of age and are settling down, this mindset is an ever-present cloud hanging over them. This uncertainty paints the Texas city name-dropping title track, when Petralli sings in a whispery falsetto, “couple years I may be a rich man, where it ends up I don’t really know.”
White Denim has always been a musically tight band, but sometimes haven’t been able to contain their varied influences on record, complicating and over-stuffing otherwise memorable tunes. Corsicana Lemonade rights the ship, especially with tracks like the crooner “New Blue Feeling”, with guitar solos that don’t get indulgent, a move that a younger band wouldn’t have made. With a lean runtime of under 38 minutes, White Denim have cut out the filler that sometimes plagued their earlier efforts.
Highlight “Come Back” opens with a rollicking blues rock riff and features some soulful, funky backup vocals. There’s so much packed into this one track, yet it stays compact, incredibly lively, and fun. The one-two punch of “Come Back” and “Distant Relative Salute” is a powerful one, with the latter’s phenomenal drum fills from Joshua Block, giving the sound of a tightened-up Last Days Of Summer standout.
On “Cheer Up / Blues Ending”, the ripping penultimate track, Petralli heroically screeches, displaying an even better vocal range than he did on D stunner “Street Joy”. The album closes with the R&B-tinged “A Place To Start”, showing that White Denim have become as good at heartfelt soul pop as they are at barnstorming rockers.
Though not as abrasive as they once were, White Denim still uses frenetic youthful energy to make truly exciting music—even while growing up. Corsicana Lemonade acts as White Denim’s claim to longevity in a fast-paced, buzz-filled music scene. Fortunately, they have the technical chops and songwriting ability to back that up. The exceptionally talented quartet has carved out a place in the upper echelon of indie rock bands. The missteps on this record are rare, and the consistent growth they’ve displayed with each release is all the more impressive for a band not even 10 years old.
Essential Tracks: “New Blue Feeling”, “Come Back”, and “Pretty Green”