White Denim has released Last Day of Summer as a free gift for fans (donations cheerfully accepted, though). The album casually tosses out a collection of songs that front man James Petralli describes as a summer retreat from recording their third full length album. With a dozen songs running just under 40 minutes, it's both short and jam packed. Don't let Petralli's understated attitude fool you; this is a cool album that plenty of bands would be happy to make.
Their last album, Fits, set up an interesting dichotomy, where the first half had a speedy, acid rock feel and the second half leaned more to a soul groove. That mix characterized a band that didn't want to be boxed in. Last Day of Summer continues the attitude by veering away in a new direction. There's a kind of poppy soul feel to this album that reflects the mellower side of Fits, but the soul is muted. The songs manage to be retro pop and still have a modern indie feel. Fits' harder edged, experimental half has shifted over into a jam band jazz feel.
I'd Have It Just The Way We Were and Home Together both have a bright poppy feel, while Shy Billy and Our Get feature intricate looped guitar layering in their indie sound. White Denim keeps up an improvisational feel, with looser leads and some great bass complexity. The songs have the trappings of pop as implemented by a more experimental band. That implementation slips fluidly between a straight jazz feel and an experienced jam band mutation. Fortunately, they avoid the noodly self-indulgence that traps too many jam bands.
When they fully surrender to the instrument jazz side, White Denim accomplishes their goal of pushing boundaries. While the poppy start of the album set one kind of mood, that changes with the thoughtful descending line of Incaviglia. It's jazzy with a slight classical guitar feel. This shifts into more of a jam band groove. The song is active and upbeat. It leads perfectly into Light Light Light, which shares a different flavor of jazz. The progressive bass movement is a bit like Modest Mouse. The sax and flute lines are a bit outside, swirling to set up a light psychedelic feel, but still asserting the jazz element. At 4:20, it's the longest song on Last Day of Summer. The musical moment is one to savor.
White Denim glance towards their harder driving music a couple of times, with Tony Fatti and Champ. In both cases, it's the drum work that conjures up the intensity. Champ is the stronger of the two, with a power pop feel that slips back into looped guitar lines for the bridge. Coming back out of that section is one of the high points.
The surprise is that White Denim pulls off the "guess what we'll sound like next" game without seeming pretentious. They're complicated artists and I'm sure that next album will turn the tables yet again. I'll pair this up with a dry traditional mead, perhaps made with mesquite honey.