Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Recommended music: 'H-p1' by White Hills

I've been trying to write a review of this album for about three weeks, but it's such a freaked-out behemoth it's hard to know where to start. It's also, like the Swans album was last year, a record that's going to polarise opinion. For a start, it's difficult to categorise into a single genre - if there was such a thing as space-garage-psycho-prog-rebel-rock then this would fit perfectly into its pigeonhole.

It's hard to believe that this was recorded in just 2 days last September, but apparently that's what happened. The record is a reaction to what the band sees as multi-national corporations co-opting and controlling our Governments. Ego Sensation, White Hills' bass player, says 'H-p1 is symbolic of the simplification of complex ideas to keep the masses from questioning the system'.

'The Condition of Nothing' starts the album with a full-on blast of noise - a great rock sound, brilliant guitar solo, some squelchy keyboard effects and great dual vocals. It's pretty much all you could need from a 6 minute opening track (you can listen to it and download it below). The track ends abruptly when 'Movement' starts, which is a 2 and a half minute interlude of choppy, clanking guitar sounds, ending with a keyboard noise that is clearly achieved when you press the button marked 'throbbing'.

Next up is 'No Other Way' - at 10 minutes 39 seconds this is still only the third longest track on the album. It's a medium paced instrumental track that starts off with a bass riff and gradually builds and builds. Guitars are layered on, followed by keyboards to create a woozy atmosphere that slowly hypnotises you before fading away. 'Paradise' ups the tempo (and the song length) with a driving drumbeat powering the song along. Headspin-inducing space effects play out over the insistent backing. The track doesn't particularly develop, but rather keeps taking slight detours before arriving back on the original path.

'Upon Arrival' is much more interesting, with distorted vocals over a backing track worthy of Iggy & The Stooges. Definitely one of the album's highlights, it rushes along with raw energy, and every instrument seems to be straining at the leash - the guitar solos are especially brilliant on here. The track disappears into a space void at the end, to be replaced by the atmospheric and droning keyboards of 'A Need To Know', which then morphs into 'Hand In Hand', which is the sound of an interstellar distress signal being received through a set of Marshall stack amplifiers. The track dissolves into the sound of a Doctor Who alien whose life is slowly pulsing out of them.

'Monument' kicks in with tribal drums, and continues with 6 minutes of burbling, fizzing noises which are occasionally enlightened by some melodic piano. That just leaves us with the epic title track 'H-p1' to deal with. I don't know much about Hawkwind but that's what came to mind when this track first came on. The guitars on here are menacingly brilliant - like a gang of black-shirted neo-fascists they march at you, forcing you to join in or be trampled underfoot as they pass by. After 4 minutes of vocals and then a couple of guitar solos the track takes a turn into Pink Floyd territory, as all 17-minute long tracks should do. Then the guitars storm back in for the start of a mammoth squalling solo. The track ends with more space noises and a feeling that, if The Clangers bought a load of 'shrooms off The Soup Dragon, locked themselves in a cave with a prog-rock band's instruments and pressed record, this is what the result would sound like.

The album is out now on Thrill Jockey records.

White Hills - The Condition of Nothing by thrilljockey


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