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White Hills

So You Are… So You’ll Be

(Thrill Jockey; US: 20 Aug 2013; UK: 19 Aug 2013)

Space-rockin’ trio White Hills might be geographically based in Brooklyn, New York, but the band’s been rocketing about the galaxy with a tweaked-out, astral-planing flourish since the mid-‘00s. White Hills’ core members, guitarist and vocalist David W, and bassist Ero Sensation (who also provides her share of vocal passages), have been joined by a revolving cast of drummers along the way, and the band has left a ridiculously prolific and thoroughly enjoyable trail of fiery and fuzzed-out works behind it. Recent albums, such as 2011’s H-p1 and 2012’s Frying on this Rock, have been some of the band’s very best hallucinogenic and sonically peaking works, with motorik-meets-acid-jam meltdowns stacked with heavily psychedelic and stoner rock riffing, all layered with Hawkwindian effects.


Played at deafening volume, with the lights turned low and incense lit, mind-expanding journeys have been guaranteed from White Hills in the past, but the band’s latest release, So You Are… So You’ll Be, finds the group dropping from its cosmic trajectory for a more controlled burn through the atmosphere. That might come as a surprise to fans expecting more of the same heads-down, trance-inducing spacerock of the past and, in truth, So You Are… So You’ll Be doesn’t provide quite the same propulsive highs, or the same berserk buzz.


With a lengthy discography already filled with energetic rockers to enjoy, there’s nothing wrong per se with White Hills exploring a different course on So You Are… So You’ll Be. However, the retro-electronic gusts of “Circulating”, “OutWords”, and “InWords” are mere blip-and-beep interludes, and while “Rare Upon the Earth” and “The Internal Monologue” make for whimsical journeying—containing flashes of Eno, Spacemen 3, and the band’s extraterrestrial obsessions dunked in boiling acid—their gentler drone is a tad, well, timid, even featureless.


Elsewhere, things are far more promising. “Mist (Winter)” melds a Neu!-worthy stomp with sci-fi electronics and hypnotic bass, and “Forever in Space (Enlightened)” drowns the Stooges in a swamp of mucky shoegaze—and features the album’s very best blistering soloing. “In Your Room” rips it up with a step-by-step chug up and down the fret board over squalls of electronics, with W’s vocals sending out the call for a SETI-echoing response from Sensation. And, if the album had contained more of that, then we’d be looking at another untrammeled and wholly successful release from the White Hills. But, we’re not.


Producer Martin Bisi returns on So You Are… So You’ll Be, and he captures the endless layering of reverb-drenched guitar and technicolor effects very well. White Hills plays to its strengths with repetitious riffing followed by the obligatory chaos of W stomping on the pedals to let loose the wall-of-noise wig-outs, bringing the deranged stonk that fans desire. But overall, the album offers more of a bumpy trip than a red-hot psychedelic experience.


Obviously, not every musical journey can be a kaleidoscopic masterpiece, but the endless unrestrained animation we’ve come to expect from White Hills isn’t as prevalent on So You Are… So You’ll Be. It’s not as if the band has lost its spark either, because there are still incendiary passages to be found, and there’s no sign of the band is stagnating at all. However, there’s simply a sense that the wild-eyed psychedelic adventurousness has been curtailed.


That might not be an issue for some, because So You Are… So You’ll Be still provides mesmeric sonic trails to follow, and it’s not uninspired by any means. The grungy proto-metal grime and mantric space rock grooves are still here, and the band’s interstellar weirdness still features strongly—with the outré effects underscoring the band’s propensity for eccentric musings. However, the album lacks the uncontrollable jams of White Hills’ past. Whatever the reason for that—and perhaps after releasing album after album White Hills is simply pausing for breath—So You Are… So You’ll Be feels, well, inhibited.


You only need listen to the band’s Live at Roadburn 2011 album, or 2010’s magnificently unshackled self-titled release, to note that inhibited is not at all something you’d normally associate with White Hills. Tuning in and dropping out is what it’s all about. So, while So You Are… So You’ll Be still worships at the altar of the distorted riff and smoking amp—and, on its best tracks, it certainly explores sensory highs—the fact that it never fully leaves orbit might well find fans choosing to dip back into the band’s previous catalogue for more unbridled pleasures.


In the end, although So You Are… So You’ll Be doesn’t shoot for the furthest reaches of the cosmos, as White Hills has done in the past, it does contain enough psyche-warping moments to make for an enjoyable album—just not the grease-streaked, galaxy-gazing, guitar glory we were hoping for. Still, there’s no doubt that White Hills is committed to exploring the potential of celestial rock ‘n’ roll with uplifting oscillations and head-spinning reverberations, and that’s what matters most. Onwards and upwards, next time round.

Rating:

Craig Hayes is based in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he is a contributing editor and columnist at PopMatters. Alongside his reviews and feature articles, Craig's monthly column, Ragnarök, traverses the metal spectrum. He is the co-author of PopMatters' regular metal round-up, Mixtarum Metallum, contributes to radio shows and numerous other sites, and he favours music that clangs, bangs, crashes, or drones. Craig can be found losing followers daily on twitter @sixnoises.


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White Hills - "In Your Room"
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