White Hills


Rating: 3.2/5.0

Label: Thrill Jockey

It’s hard to talk about White Hills without mentioning outer space. They’re a band whose doomy, steadfast rhythm section anchors songs that swirl in shuttle landing configuration sounds lasting from four to 17 minutes long on their new disc H-p1. The New York outfit has carved out their own bright corner of the galaxy with warring atmospheric drone releases such as their self titled 2009 effort, as well as a slew of 7 inches and EPs with support from Drug Space Records and Thrill Jockey. They’re back this summer to continue the movement of one of the loudest forms of rock n roll: space rock.

The early juxtaposition of the sludgy guitar guzzle of “The Condition of Nothing” with the hypnotizing abstractions of knob-twisting explorations “Movement” and “No Other Way” lets you know that this will not be a streamlined album centered on any one idea. “The Condition of Nothing” features the vocal strength of both front man Dave W. and bassist Ego Sensation. Squiggly sounds impersonating shooting stars bouncing off writhing guitars nearing crescendos with the fierce murmur of a bass crunching alongside.

Dissimilarly, “Movement” meanders on a remote, patchy sonic plane without immediate purpose, in the way of early Kraftwerk. When the clamorous percussion, perceivable of unnamed metals, is removed near the song’s end, the patient pulsing reaches back to the early ideas of Krautrock composition. “No Other Way” warms up White Hill’s synthesizers, the newest addition to their recording adventures. “No Other Way” escapes earth for 10-and-a-half minutes. Spotty glitch implosions dart to and fro, squelching moon mud off the soaring synth atmospherics while, unbound by the same sense of time, the smoky, distorted chug of a simple chord progression plays on only to drop out as it were a song within a song.

The second half of the album follows in the same way, as largely unconnected songs that pull from ambient sketches and then from stoner rock are placed in stark order. Though each song and every instrument is played with lasting conviction on H-p1 the potential of their range is bombed by their own ambitions. The uneven positioning of varied spacey transmissions make for a tenuously integrated album with straightforward rock ‘n’ roll blasts like “Upon Arrival” stuck in between deep instrumental wandering sagas like “Paradise” and “A Need To Know.” No doubt, the disruptive contrasting of songs comes from a skill for executing both. And to call H-p1 experimental would be to marginalize it. Instead, White Hills are passionate enough to try to arrange multiple ideas of space rock into one album at the cost of cohesion.

There are too many fun soundscapes present to dismiss the latest White Hills effort on the grounds that it is a merely a conglomeration of their talents, however. Two-parter “Paradise” exerts power at first, growing into a head-nodding build of what sounds like a hot piston letting off endless steam. The second part delves into an even sweatier drum pattern with heftier fills and a delicate minute long fade out – the sound of the band pulling themselves out of the black hole from whence they came and then plunging back in again. The threat of meteoric toms on “Upon Arrival” opens the album up wide to make way for Dave W, who sings like he’s underwater, bubbles of air surging outward each time a syllable is shouted through a water-proof distortion box. The massive guitar solo connects all the dots of the Milky Way with each screaming note played in the classically frenzied way of 1970s cock rock. The band plays its last measure, revealing layers of floating frequencies underneath. “Hand in Hand” is wonderfully sinister, making use of what sounds like the best part of War of the Worlds (2005), the baleful stretched out pound of the impending three-legged war machines leveling New Jersey. “Monument,” a stripe that barely changes pitch, picks up where “Movement” left off, this time incorporating a John Zorn inspired drum circle. Bright crackles and sharp tiny explosions echo into a tight cut-off.

To credit White Hills, a classically organized album is just as appealing or appreciated as the unmethodical full-length conceptions that have come from artists in recent years such as Fuck Buttons, Sunn O))) and Oneohtrix Point Never. Both approaches have inspired lucid listening experiences, but, for White Hills, it sometimes comes off as unmanageable, despite their ability to momentarily transport you.

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