Pitchfork: Album Reviews: White Denim: Let's Talk About It EP

Album Review

During the autumn of 1966, L.A. band the Music Machine had a Top 20 hit with "Talk Talk," a manic, freakbeat ode to that standard emotion of the era's rock: angst at being misunderstood, compounded by the self-loathing that comes from the inability to sufficiently explain what's happening. Forty-two years later, the first EP from Texas trio White Denim-- appropriately titled Let's Talk About It-- sounds like the Music Machine's hip grandson, all grimy, convulsive rawk with a heavy dollop of Texas scuzz and cocksure spaz. Its title indicates singer James Petralli has a similar communicative problem as the Machine's Sean Bonniwell (or Roger Daltrey or Eric Burdon, for that matter), yet Petralli is more confrontational about it.

On the title track, the band rides a hyperactive torn woofer riff like a mechanical bull, and Petralli not only forcibly engages with someone, but takes the next step and wants a reaction. The band's own reciprocation is sufficiently psychotic; the song goes on for about two minutes longer than it should, twisting that core riff into a squelched-out, hyper-stimulated barrage of sounds, echoing Petralli's own neologism describing his lyrics: "trucklandish." "I Can Tell" deals with verbosity as well, using "your talkin'" as an insight into understanding that the other person is "not right." It's not a question of wrongness as much as one of mental stability, though; the chorus "did you forget to chew your medicine, honey?" explains that much.

"Tell"'s sonic selling point is its periodic two-note organ-sonar ping, a heavily-echoed distant cousin of the "96 Tears" Farfisa, and the only sound of stability within the primal polyrythmic fury of drummer Josh Block. Rising above the lo-fi clatter, it fills the same function as the falsetto-soul breakdown that brings "Darksided Computer Mouth" to a temporary breath-catching halt. The same holds for the squawking guitar siren from "Mess Your Hair Up", which explores miscommunication at the familiar level of a troubled relationship. It appears from the hissy murk of Block's rumble as the first verse ends ("why cant you speak? let me know?"), and pushes its way to the front.

"Talk Talk" may have made it onto Lenny Kaye's canon-establishing Nuggets collection six years after its release, but within the current environment, White Denim would do well to get in an iPhone commercial or something. You can't sell technology without style, as this scene-baiting couplet from "Mouth" confirms: "You know you've got to read words hard/ If you're trying to learn the super cool talks." As for getting noticed in the crowded indie 2.0 field, the unsigned band (with a punk-as-fuck vinyl-only 7" as its only release, from Austin) is making the right moves: They're ubiquitous on monster Dallas-based mp3 blog Gorilla vs. Bear, they killed at SXSW 2007, and they struck a deal with faddish Engadget/Downtown Records online blog/imprint RCRD LBL to release one new mp3 a month for 2008's first quarter.

The music on Let's Talk About It, like others have done for over 50 years now, channels addled youthful frustration into a buzzing romp of the sort that, when done well (as with White Denim's closest chronological predecessors Jon Spencer and Royal Trux), doesn't ever seem to get old. The record title also conveys a sense of the clatter surrounding the band: Hype Machined buzz, after all, is likewise just a bunch of people talking about the same music at the same time, right?

Eric Harvey, January 9, 2008



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