White Hills H-p1

[Thrill Jockey; 2011]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: space rock, Krautrock, stoner rock
Others: Pontiak, Hawkwind, Oneida

Brooklyn-based psychedelic shredders White Hills have the distinct advantage of playing for an audience that embraces what others might deride as excess. H-p1 is another substantial missive of roiling, evil space-rock from the prolific group, and while it’s easy to criticize the band for fixating on a single riff for several minutes at a time, that complaint also misses the point. The band remains at their most compelling in concert — where the members appear held captive by their own hypnotic sheets of noise — but H-p1 holds up as a well-crafted document in its own right, despite some lulls along the way.

The record begins flawlessly; “The Condition of Nothing” roars out of the gate with no preamble, offering an immediate ultimatum to listeners: Turn it up if you like it, turn it off if you don’t. Towering, circular riffs completely submerge the wailing vocals. At six and a half minutes, the song also serves as a warning shot for what’s to come; six of H-p1’s nine tracks run over six minutes, and three run over 10 minutes. If one isn’t already a fan of the genre, listener fatigue may be a problem — orchestral suites these ain’t. Nonetheless, it’s easy to be swept up in the spirited proceedings of the best tracks here. “Movement” is the perfect clanging, metallic bleed-over into the doomy “No Other Way,” a weighty, plodding number whose downbeat energy overstays its welcome by a minute or two.

Not so with “Paradise,” the album’s propulsive Krautrock track, which gallops along for 12 and a half minutes of outer space noodling, somehow listenable and fun despite sounding a helluva lot like a lockstep practice room jam. It’s one-upped by the following “Upon Arrival,” a concise (for White Hills — it’s only a shade over five minutes) rocker that recaptures the ferocious energy of “The Condition of Nothing” and showcases the band’s chops as a straight-ahead classic metal outfit.

A funny thing happens as the last notes of “Upon Arrival” fade out, content, it would seem, that they’d rocked hard enough for the time being, White Hills now offer us 16 minutes of murky, synthesizer-generated atmospherics over the course of three separate tracks. Sometimes, when listening to the album, these songs are evocative and a welcome relief after the aural workout of the album’s first half. Other times, they simply feel dull, and I skip ahead to the 17-minute, self-titled closing track, a massive, gloriously repetitive burner that sums up the entire album and arguably the band’s M.O. as a whole. Layers and layers of distortion, synth squiggles, a lengthy, mechanical coda: they’re all here.

Ultimately, H-p1 isn’t going to evangelize legions of new fans to the genre, and if one didn’t care for White Hills before, this won’t change a mind. Of their recorded material, however, White Hills’ latest is perhaps their best; short of an in-person experience of the band’s eardrum-shattering performances, the album is their pithiest dispatch yet.

Links: White Hills - Thrill Jockey

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