White Hills - Frying On This Rock [Thrill Jockey - 2012]White Hills is a highly revered psychedelic rock band from New York. Being such, of course I had absolutely no idea they existed before I was handed out their new album to review. so I suppose this review will be as candid as it gets.
The first track "Pads Of Light" is a repetitive and fast crypto-seventies psychedelic rock tune with a nice guitar riff that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The sounds are good and I can't really complain about anything in the rhythmic section. The only really bad point about this track are the vocals. It's not that they're bad per se, but I guess I just can't stand this guy's voice. I'm sorry pal.
Track two "Robot Stomp" is a twelve-minutes long spaced out wall of psychedelic space rock. Reverse weird and possibly tape-echoed vocals and noises (it could easily be a totally digital effect, but at this point and age who cares) , incessant robotic (ha!) drumming, and drugged guitar droning paint a readily recognizable canvas. It's ok stuff but it gets quite dull after a while. The intentions are laudable, plus layers of noisy guitar and psychedelic synth add more depth to the mix, but the crisp and clean modern production ruins it a bit. It reminds me a lot of Oneida's "Sheets Of Easter", and I believe White Hills are related to this band in some way. I feel this stuff fails where Velvet Underground or Hawkwind succeeded fifty years ago.
The Third track "You Dream You See" features more unbearable vocals and a quite nice guitar/bass work. The best bit of this track is when the singer shuts up and lets bass and percussion lead the game, paired with pretty good swooshing slabs of synth. Not bad.
Unfortunately somebody must really like White Hills' vocals, so "Song Of Everything" features a few minutes more of this torture. Apart from its great title, this track contains some of the best moments of the album: the noisiest and most violent, if a bit short, guitar solo of the whole set and a sweet, liquid and peaceful psychedelic/ambient piece, complete with echoed guitar, retro synth and retarded manipulated reverse vocals. The main and only guitar riff is quite nice and unusually aggressive.
"Frying On This Rock" ends with the fourteen minutes long "I Write A Thousand Letters (Pulp On Bone)". A bit of Eno-esque synth work, nice fuzzy guitar sound and a kraut rock temperament kept my attention up for some minutes, but in the end I forgot I was listening to this record. Which might be a great achievement for White Hills, who knows!
In conclusion, with all its up and downs, pros and cons, merits and flaws this is an ok album. It didn't stick in my mind, it made me want to slap the musicians who recorded it more than a few times during the listening experience and it didn't struck all the right chords but hey, it's psychedelic space rock and I suppose this kind of stuff can't get much better in 2012. I fear that White Hill's popularity is highly due to the fact that they're from New York, but there's a fair potential for good music in them.Nicola Vinciguerra