White Denim’s eighth record opens with a few seconds of white noise as the radio dial is turned between stations. It feels like a fitting lead-off for an album that frontman James Petralli has openly admitted is meant to represent a marked counterpoint to their last effort, 2016’s ‘Stiff’, which saw him reshape the group in his own image; slick, melodic indie rock with confessional lyrics. This time, he’s embraced a more chaotic approach, once again reshuffling the lineup (the only other permanent member is bassist Steve Terebecki) to welcome drummer Conrad Choucroun and keyboardist Michael Hunter, both of whom were apparently genuine collaborators rather than hired hands in a writing process that put major emphasis on jamming ideas out, as well as random word association in the penning of the lyrics.
The results, at their best, are exhilarating; opener ‘Magazin’ quickly ditches ‘Stiff’’s softness-of-touch for groove-driven, bluesy swagger, whilst ‘Moves On’ is breathlessly unpredictable in its experimental rock stomp. Holding the highlights together is Choucroun’s choppy, jazzy style behind the kit, which lends a gripping amorphousness to the likes of the pleasantly breezy ‘Sky Beaming’.
Elsewhere, though, there’s plenty of evidence of where a producer would have been not just welcome, but crucial; the meandering ‘Fine Slime’ collapses under the weight of its many ideas, and the sonic landscape of ‘Backseat Driver’ is far too busy. Those moments, unlikely as it might seem, recall the more indulgent side of Animal Collective in their lack of restraint. Petralli could have done with somebody reining him in at points here, but if all he set out to do was leave ‘Stiff’ firmly in the rear-view mirror, then he’ll consider ‘Performance’ a resounding success.
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