Album review: White Hills – "H-p1"

Heavy, unrelenting drones of guitar riffage that are spread out over an extended jam. That is how I would sum up the sound of White Hills’ “H-p1” in one sentence. It isn’t totally fair to sum things up in one nice little phrase though as the songs on the album actually cover quite a bit more ground and honestly can’t be summed up succinctly.

The same way that Queens of the Stone Age’s early material would take one riff and pound it into the ground with unrelenting repetition, so do the tracks here. I’m reminded more of two bands that aren’t Queens of the Stone Age while listening to this album, both of them based in Chicago: CAVE and Vee Dee. CAVE’s basis in heavy sounding kraut-rock that sounds like it is going to crush you beneath its weight combined with Vee Dee’s garage rock goodness.

The opening track “The Condition of Nothing” is basically the same fuzzed out guitar riff that shifts between 2 chords throughout. There are some vocals that bring the track into a bit of A Place To Bury Strangers territory with the sound of guitar based industrial music that is sinister and sneering with tinny production placed up against an absolute wall of guitars.

“No Other Way”, which clocks in at nearly eleven minutes, takes the same formula, minus the vocals. A heavy riff is repeated throughout while an echoed melody provides a bit of variety. In the course of eleven minutes the track is developed subtly with a background hum that slowly creeps up eventually taking center stage as everything else begins to fade. These shifts and changes that occur over the extended jams contrast with the sheer repetitiveness that the listener is sure to be focusing on and drawn towards. Admittedly the riffage does lock in to a hypnotic groove, allowing the listener significant time to focus on different aspects of the track.

White Hills - "H-p1"
White Hills - "H-p1"

Following “No Other Way” is “Paradise”, another lengthy track that functions in quite a different way. This time the drums are the primary focus while scattered, spacey sounds pop up at various times creating a much more varied fabric that spasms and percolates to the end.

Out of the extended jams and the stoner-rock minimalist development comes the garage-rock sound of “Upon Arrival” that gets to the point straight away. Psychedelic garage rock with vocals that sound like Alice Cooper and simultaneously provide White Hills with the best opportunity for radio play. There is an honest to goodness verse/chorus/verse structure with a real guitar solo that pulls us back out of kraut-rock groove of repetition.

As a testament to the truly varied nature of the album the latter half moves even further away from riff based rock and into more ambient, free form electronic free form improv with a trilogy of tracks that seem to develop and bleed into one another. “A Need to Know”, “Hand in Hand” and “Monument” could form one giant song, just as the band seems to be doing earlier in the album.

Pulling things apart and putting them back together, exploring different sounds and themes while remaining firmly rooted in the tradition of heavy psychedelic music seems to be what this album is all about. They take ideas presented and flesh them out on other tracks, they run them into each other and play them on top of each other, helping to make sense out of their seemingly disparate interests. This all makes total sense with the truly epic titular track that closes the album at an astonishing 17+ minutes with a truly evil sounding riff that seems to tie together all of the ideas presented in the album. I’ll even give them bonus points for sporting a few extended guitar solos in one song and throughout the album.

Discuss