The camera shows us a darkened window in a grey metallic surface, strange ridges and indentations around it. It pulls back, showing others, identical in construction, they fill the screen. The screen pulls back further still, tens, hundreds of them now showing; suddenly the reflection of a ringed blue planet crosses the windows and the camera follows, panning along what must be miles of windows, to a curving edge beyond which … is space.
After lingering amongst the stars the camera shows the edge of the vast craft once more, too far to pick the windows out individually the viewer notices larger patterns on the surface, valleys, chasms even – strange projections, lit cupolas of a vast size and mysterious purpose, flickering channels of blue lights. Then it sweeps away and we see that this whole construction is only a small part of a much larger unit, a single limb of six surrounding a central elongated core of a size that simply defies our ability to describe it. Wheeling away again the camera shows that this Goliath is one of a vast glittering fleet thrusting through the inky black Empyrean on some nameless purpose.
The screen cuts in sharply, the camera diving in again to one of the outer limbs of a ship, flashing down along one enormous canyon in its side and we can see that far from being smooth the sides of the ship are formed from thousands of buildings, each capped with one of the ‘windows’ we saw earlier. From this close we can see some of the surfaces are scarred and pitted with marks and damage of some sort. Zoom in again to one of the ‘windows’ and you realize it is a solar panel, zoom in again and you see square lettering bearing the legend ‘H-P1’, cut in again and you see a person in a spacesuit at the crossbar of the ‘H’, it must be 200 feet across …
That’s what ‘Nothing Less’ the second track on this EP sounds like. A perfect revelation of pulsing, retro-sounding synths, cycling and building, creating illusions of scale and grandeur. welcome to the best sci-fi film score you ever heard. Welcome to some serious head space. Welcome to White Hills Stolen Stars Left For No One EP, from 2010 but picked up by me in 2013 following a hot tip from fellow WH enthusiast Jhubner73.
The last track of the three, ‘Don’t Touch Me I’m Bleeding’, starts off sounding like an incredibly loud band playing inside a venue, you have just reeled out of to be sick. You can hear the bass and drums churning away, a disturbance in the air where the guitar should be and suddenly the alien drugs kick in fully – you start falling backwards, eyes rolled back in your head except you will take 20 minutes to hit the ground – time slowing, warping around you as you feel every second of it, unable to change anything. The music echoing in your head which feels like it was made of solid glass, craving and dreading the release of hitting the ground.
Opener, ‘Drift Away’ is rock in the sense that it has been hewn out of an incredibly dense, hard mineral. The band play a pulsating groove, there are whoosh noises* which builds for three and a half minutes before the guitar starts to head up out of the murky groove, spiralling ever upwards. Dave W is a hell of a player and he really lets rip here, like really! This is the sort of solo that sounds like it should have been played standing on a cliff-edge in the rain, legs wide apart, the notes bombing and diving like I’ve not heard anyone but Hendrix make work, following the beat but pushing it too. It sounds like the climax to the last battle of good vs. evil. Then 8 minutes on, the guitar fades away and we’re left with the sound of the new dawn. It really is a masterful performance.
All this from ‘a collection of studio rarities recorded at some point in time’ when they couldn’t even be sure of the drummer’s name**. Most space rockers don’t even get close to this level of genius, let alone this level of proficiency but there again White Hills aren’t just any bunch of psychedelic space rockers. They are my favourite live band, they’ve just announced a new LP^, I’ve just booked tickets to see them in April and I’m rather excited by the whole thing.
Which is why I’ve just spent a large chunk of my Saturday night listening to Stolen Stars Left For No One in the dark, 27 minutes of real excellence and inspiration. If you like space, if you like guitars, if you like feeling like you’re falling backwards very slowly then listen to this; trust me.
Scratched into the run-off groove in the centre of the record is a legend that may mean everything, or nothing at all,
‘The universe sings to me … the song of everything’
PS – I love the way that Thrill Jockey put this one out looking like a bootleg, with a paper ‘cover’ wrapped around a plain white sleeve and a plain white label on the record itself.
*God, I love whooshy noises on tunes.
**Dave W and Ego Sensation are White Hills, drummers vary.
^recorded in my beloved Wales!