From the onset of their newest album, D, it is clear that Austin’s White Denim will always have to contend with the fact that they sound a lot like The Black Keys. Now, I would argue that D is actually better than The Black Keys’ most recent offering Brothers, but, for as long as lead singer James Patralli has an almost identical tone to that of Dan Auerbach, the two will always be compared to each other. And, because The Black Keys came first, they will probably always win creative supremacy.
But of course just because an artist came first does not mean that they are automatically better than similar bands that form down the road. The reason why I find D more enjoyable than Brothers is because, where the latter was more focused on fleshing out basic templates into well-executed song modules, the former features a great knack for instrumentation, which allows White Denim to expand musically into a more diverse pallet of sound. It cannot be understated how excellent of musicians White Denim are. While throughout D you will hear dexterous percussion and nimble bass, when the group opts for no vocals at all, comparisons to The Black Keys are rendered moot as the band comes into their own through the masterful pushes and pulls of some of the greatest jam bands of all time. It should be no surprise then that D’s best track is the instrumental, “At the Farm”, in which the rhythm section of bassist Steve Terebecki and drummer Joshua Block pull no punches, Block even embellishing with the rare drum solo that feels juuuuuuuuust right.
It may be more beneficial for the group to be solely instrumental. Although Patralli’s voice is competent, it is very difficult to overcome that daunting creativity shadow that looms over the group whenever he opens his mouth. Also, Patralli’s lyrics can be distracting at times, as on the annoying “Drugs”, which brings D down with its insipid take on its subject matter. Despite all this, the album is worth listening to for the group’s genuine talent at putting together a song. Its Achilles heel may be very exposed for criticism, but its quality gives me confidence that, with time, White Denim will be able to overcome it.