review: white hills
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“Everyone wants to live in a Polaroid; sunglasses, cider et al. sound-tracked by a mysterious ambience”
Heavy space-rockers White Hills’ latest cosmic onslaught of an album, ‘Frying on this Rock’, is the band’s most precise and structured effort yet, while still managing to retain the swirling experimental elements of their earlier recordings. Hailing, somewhat surprisingly, from the urban jungle that is New York, White Hills is guitarist Dave W. and bassist Ego Sensation, who are aided on this most recent release by Julian Cope drummer Anthronhy and recording engineer Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Swans, Dresden Dolls, Foetus) whose vast experience helped to shape the sonic quality of the record. The band’s trademark sound is echoes upon echoes of repeated riffs hidden in clouds of feedback and spontaneous guitar work that you can easily lose yourself in, before you’re reeled back in by a stomping return to that original riff that grabbed you and held you hostage, probably most apparent on the song ‘Three Quarters’ from their eponymous 2010 album. Dave W. remarks in a recent interview that ‘it’s like you can escape in a way that you can’t escape, in the sense of when you watch a television programme or when you watch a movie. It’s mind-expanding and hopefully it makes people think in some way.’
Orbital – ‘New France (feat. Zola Jesus)’, (ACP Recordings, 2012) The anticipated return of Orbital, after eight years of silence, heralds a new evolution for electronica. New record ‘Wonky’ has ambitions in smoothing every glitch and precarious drop left in the wake of dubstep – a return to form, single ‘New France’ nods to the purity of Orbital’s origins. Lending her hyper-ethereal, tempestuous vocals to the track, Zola Jesus, industrial siren extraordinaire, translates well into the ambient. Both strings and synths swell organically as layers are built upon in what becomes an anthem revelling in melancholy. If ever a sound evoked the fever of a late summer night, ‘New France’ was it. The summer anthem isn’t beyond rational comprehension. A manifesto for perfection would demand the track to be: ethereal, intensely theatrical and capable of scoring the film of your life – epic summer internal montage time (don’t worry, everyone does it). It has to sustain play on repeat for days on end, through both drunken bliss and crippling hangover, on tinny speakers and on high end sound systems. “It shall play on the beaches, it shall play on the landing grounds, it shall play in the fields and in the streets, it shall play in the hills; it shall never surrender” (Winston Churchill, the smoking bit outside Subby, ca. 1940).* And with that, long live the summer! Let it be a bleached Polaroid haze.
When White Hills took to the stage at Glasgow’s Stairway Club on Union Street on March 21st, this notion of thought provoking escapism became clear as the band blended their set into a single, combined sensory overload. They were aptly supported by Glasgow’s drone drenched krautrock collective The Cosmic Dead, whose largely instrumental style was interspersed with distorted chants, driven by repetitive percussion, the steady tempo giving them an almost spiritual presence, as if they were summoning their sonic Gods of Can, Neu! and Hawkwind to come and join the show. White Hills followed, beginning their set boldly with their most recent single ‘Pads of Light’, a battering gem of stoner rock that clearly showed they were not here to fuck about. After immediately reeling the crowd in to their other-worldly sound, they continued to hold us there, hypnotised, for the duration. A definite highlight of the set was the pulsing penultimate track of ‘Frying on this Rock’, ‘Song of Everything’, which came alive with absolute ferocity as Dave W. and Ego began with the same looped riff, W. layering his guitar work over the top, all elements gradually stripped down to a quietly whirling sound, above which W. entreats us to ‘open your minds/open your hands/take it in’. Under this spell, it’s hard not to. The song culminated into an experimental explosion of sound as the musicians played off each other to reign the song back in to its heavy end. Although not quite living up to their triumphant record H-P1, released just last year with its thunderously tense atmosphere, Frying on this Rock is nevertheless worth a listen for any fans of the band or the psychedelic genre in general. However, it is without question that White Hills have succeeded in breathing trance-inducing life into the tracks during their shows, continuing to add to their already renowned reputation as a mesmerising live act.
TEXT: SOPHIE MCGRAW
*Please note sources may be of questionable authenticity. GUM / issue 03 / 2012