A recent love this one, White Hills H-p1 from 2010, promoted here because I’ve got tickets to see them in Liverpool next month and I am really rather excited. Prior to this release I’d heard a few previous tracks that had not really grabbed me but lots of references to anti-consumerist space rock had me intrigued and the clincher was that they were on my fave record label Thrill Jockey*. A slightly austere looking double LP duly turned up on my doorstep featuring some starkly colour-altered photographs of (hey!) white hills and records which were pressed on hubcap-thick vinyl – sorry I’ll stop there before I over-excite myself and need to take another cold shower.
H-p1 is an undeniably impressive work of art, but not a perfect one. It’s mostly instrumental and three of the nine tracks break the 10 minute barrier, which I hasten to say is not an indication that we are in a very fast car bound for prog-jam-shitcreeksville, Illinois because White Hills are odder, looser and more focused than that – let me explain.
H-p1 kicks off with ‘The Condition of Nothing’ which starts so abruptly that you feel like someone’s opened a door on a song which was already being played, a neat trick if you can pull it off (like The Stooges always seemed to be able to), the song is all mumbled, menacing vocals, off-key female backing vox, a loping rhythm and a painfully distorted / over-treated guitar solo before lapsing back into a coda which sounds like a molested orchestra. Then you lurch into the clanging horror-movie bell-like guitars (I’m guessing) of ‘Movement’, which carries on long enough to be as jarring as hell before dying back to a keyboard thrum, which in turn leads into ‘No Other way’, 10 minutes of vaguely Eastern treated guitars, which peak and trough, ebb and flow and put me slightly in mind of MBV; and those are my three least favourite tracks on the LP.
‘Paradise’ is up next and as far as I am concerned this is 12 minutes of sheer, umm, paradise. Featuring more whooshy space noises than the whole of Hawkwind’s back catalogue put together, this track really does sound like space travel to me, it is just amazing; the drumming on this one by Kid Millions (from Oneida) is incredible too, giving what could be a cold, almost electronic-sounding track real warmth and swing. I listen to this track a lot and hear something new in it every single time. If you’re going to download a single track from this as a taster get this one – you won’t regret it I promise and it’ll be covered by the usual 1537 guarantee**. Four songs and 33 minutes in and not a single verse, or chorus in sight!
The next track ‘Upon Arrival’ remedies that in a second, another fantastic track this one, the best track Monster Magnet never cut, an unfeasibly good space-glam-rock triumph – when, in 3 years time, aliens invade having reconfigured their entire civilisation around my blog I will have this played at my intergalactic coronation. Again I can’t stress how good this is and it even finds time to reboot that tired old nag, the guitar solo into something genuinely exciting. At around 2:24 into the song you can hear the traditional space for the guitar solo building up, a loop of feedback from Dave W. keeps you waiting for a further few seconds before unleashing quite simply the best solo I have heard in years, I listened to this song 8 times straight, jogging this morning and if my lungs would have let me, I would have given it another 8 at least. I’ve changed my mind, if you’re going to get one track as a taster get this one instead. Oh and you can barely make out a word.
Since our puny human brains would be unable to process thrills at this rate without accruing some serious damage the pace drops back to the ambient ‘A Need to Know’ and ‘Hand in Hand’, the latter being a bit more spiky. Then we’re holed amidships by ‘Monument’, 6 minutes of nightmarish rhythyms and drone – a bit like like attending a full samba carnival with a headful of really cheap drugs (I’d imagine – 1537 runs on nothing more sinister than caffeine and a regular vinyl contact high). H-p1 finishes with ‘H-p1’, a 17-minute anti-consumerist rant full of fairly simplistic shouting about various issues and truisms, personally it doesn’t hit the mark for me particularly when I shelled out a fair amount of hard-earned for this beauty straight off the shelf. If we ignore the message and concentrate on the rather heavy Hawkwind (yes, them again!) via Black Sabbath riffs and yet more whooshy space noises and frantic soloing, it can be a real trip – I particularly like the bit where the rhythym changes totally towards the end and the last two minutes of quiet keyboard flutters.
So there you go, more detail than I normally give but you need it to understand the shifts and changes in the LP, it’s not just Hawkwind rebooted for C21, its a lot more experimental and original than that. I don’t love this LP but I do love ‘Paradise’ and ‘Upon Arrival’, the rest of it is to be admired hugely, some bands have whole careers without having/using this many ideas. In a perfect world I would have the sort of lifestyle where I could just take myself off to a cabin in the woods, drink huge amounts of cider and play this beast of an LP loud enough to wake the pharoahs; seeing them next month will have to do instead.
*I know, I know, what sort of sad puss give a monkeys about record labels? My top 5 are:
1. Thrill Jockey
2. Southern Lord
4. Rise Above
** If you’re not completely satisfied with this track, simply tell me and I’ll shrug my digital shoulders and mutter something inane like ‘Well, that’s the way it goes, I guess’ – guaranteed!