[EVOLVING ROCK] For Josh Block, drummer for Austin's White Denim, describing the process of recording the band's new album is a bit difficult. It probably shouldn't be; it wasn't, as they say, his first rodeo. In fact, D, which came out in May, is the genre-hopscotching group's third record. As far as the band's concerned, however, it might as well be its debut. It's the first album White Denim worked on outside of the trailer it uses as a combination studio and practice space. It was a new experience that changed the way the band thinks about making music.
So, when asked to discuss this record in relation to those that came before it, Block defers to a metaphor.
"Last night, this girl at dinner was talking to her friend who was taking a picture on Instagram," he says over the phone while on break from rehearsals, a day before the band leaves on tour with Manchester Orchestra. "The girl was talking about photography and saying, 'I don't use that stuff,' referring to digital processing. She seemed put off by it, and she had sound reasons." Her argument, he explains, is that she objected to people being able to essentially manufacture accidents—to make a photo look like the product of the moment it was taken when it was actually manipulated after the fact. And that's what Block considers White Denim's earlier albums to be: exercises in faux-spontaneity. "We did a really good job of making them seem like accidents," he says.
Listening to D, the difference is clear. It feels meticulously crafted, and largely for the better. White Denim's 2009 breakthrough, the aptly named Fits, was a frantic, schizophrenic record; the sound of Southern garage punk, psychedelic rock, prog and free jazz tossed into a blender and set on puree for an hour. While D maintains that jittery restlessness, it's mostly under the surface. Instead of blitzing from one style and time signature to the next—usually in the span of a single verse—the band relaxes enough to allow its gorgeously sprawling, swirling songs to fully unravel. It's still stylistically manic, but the shifts are more coherent, skipping from the desert-fried Grateful Dead of the Meat Puppets' Up on the Sun ("It's Him!") to the twinkling cosmos-folk of early My Morning Jacket ("Street Joy") to rollicking, hooky rock 'n' roll (âBess St.â).
"We used to just approach everything as it came and hit every idea and let the album itself decide how it was going to come out," Block says. "With this one, there was a lot more planning. It was more of a traditional approach.â
Along with the addition of guitarist Austin Jenkins, who joins Block, singer-guitarist James Petralli and bassist Steve Terebecki, D is not just a new album but the start of a new band—one that no longer has to record in a trailer, at least.
"Everyone has grown as a player and a person," he says. "I think those times, as great as they were, are behind us—which isn't a bad thing."
SEE IT: White Denim plays the Wonder Ballroom on Saturday, Oct. 29, with Manchester Orchestra, the Dear Hunter and Little Hurricane. 8 pm. $16.50-$20. All ages.