Saturday, July 16, 2011

WHITE HILLS "H-p1" (Thrill Jockey)

When people think of psychedelia their brains usually come back gasping on a smorgasbord of explosive colours and swirling, air-warping patterns of refracted light. The concept of psychedelic "space-rock" rests heavily on transforming these patterns and explosions into sound, of grabbing the listener by the mind and flushing them down an LSD-washed hole to the very center of their own awareness; oftentimes the experience of psychedelic immersion can be equated to those warm colours and hypnotic, dancing patterns. But there's another side to space-rock, the side that actually delivers on the promise of space: cold, empty, motorik excursions into the further reaches of head-nodding wasteoidism where the deep, expansive echoes aren't so much sounds created by manipulated machines but rather the sonic equivalents of free-form floating through a gigantic, terrifying emptiness, heading towards a nadir of existence where matter simply ceases and any sort of "awareness" gets crushed under the weight of its own being. This is the sort of territory White Hills exists in; a cosmic anger directed at every fiber of our modern technology-dependent lives, a Kacyznski-esque call to action delivered via some of the most oppressive, violent psychedelia recorded since the first Acid Mothers Temple cassette.
I've had problems with White Hills in the past. Their expansive back catalogue, while shot through with moments of fiery, abrasive rock brilliance, too often gave way to meandering drifts of pointless knob-twiddling and stomp-box wankery masquerading as high art. There was a huge lack of focus, an inability to think on a grander scale and turn in a cohesive work that both took you to the outer fucking fringes and kept you locked in to one underlying thematic aesthetic. White Hills were prone to jamming and fucking around with neither being mutually exclusive; the records suffered and I found myself unable to truly "get into it" without being derailed by some burbling skittish synth work or a skewed take on musique concrete whipped up in the garage that went on for ten minutes. "H-p1" corrects all of those errors and sets the dials to "rock," recording close to in the red and spewing out a devastating slab of mind-melting audio void, like Pink Floyd getting sucked into a black hole or Hawkwind landing on the surface of the sun.
Based around an idea of modern disgust and boredom tethered to a style of bottomed-out self-fulfilling hopelessness, "H-p1" churns out an impressive amount of cold, hateful atmosphere right from the first song. This is easily the heaviest White Hills have ever been, and the way they sift and seep throughout the record's 72 minute runtime reads little else than anger tied to a frustrating restlessness. Guitars are huge and for the most part unfettered by the rampant psychedelic effects of albums past, the bass locks in, grinds out and fucking crushes the opposition with brain-puking distorto-throbbing, the keyboards and synths craft clouds of space-swirl to wrap everything in and the drums lay it out in strict motorik thought-numbing thuds, daring you to even fucking consider the deeper ideas. Technology has lulled us, and fuck if White Hills aren't going to illustrate that narcotic lull through the near sacred power of holy repetition and thick, unrelenting TONE. This is powerful music, more of a sermon than a simple rock record, a moment of veiled transcendence that only fully gives itself over to your mind once it's eradicated the will of your body. It's a full on psychedelic fucking journey through the dankest parts of your worst days spent hiding in the dark of your rotten apartment, desperately self-medicating and looking for something, anything, to take the edge off while somehow still staying "connected" to all the seemingly important bullshit happening around you. Cell phones, television, social networking-all part of the problem, all symptoms of laziness, complacency, and a growing sense of isolation that asserts itself ever more fully with each new iPhone update. We don't need this shit. It's psychic destruction sapping away the best of us. The only thing left at the end of it all will be millions of ringing phones, dead apps and a stagnant pool of ice and ash washing over the collected bodies.
Brooding, evocative, gnarly, desperate as fuck-this is White Hills at their absolute best, their most devastating. "H-p1" is a grinding assault for your attention that goes to the deepest reaches of icy space with on intention of ever coming back. Existence eventually becomes subtraction, refraction eventually becomes void. Throw this record on and drop the fuck out. A total masterpiece.

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