Thursday, 9 April 2015

White Hills "Walks for Motorists" (Thrill Jockey)

"Do we dare to call ourselves creators?" ask creators White Hills, dreaming "in defiance of god" on the musical mutation that motors up an unexpected change in direction: "No Will" threw me at first as it doesn't sound like any other White Hills song at all. A friend mentioned a similarity to Bauhaus, but White Hills sound more angry and natural. But what is natural? Although nebulous, the "worst fears in flesh and blood" expressed on "No Will" make me think of genetic modification, cloning, artificial intelligence, the very probable evolution of a group mind as the human race replaces flesh with machine, neurons with wire and circuitry and animal mutates first into machine then pure information. There's a break from such philosophical pondering with the propulsive chug of "£SD or USB" but the title implies the increasing hallucinogenic potency of the internet. White Hills' heavy psychedelic rock of old takes up the battle for freedom from authoritarian control on "Wanderlust," almost a manifesto for the relentless touring that takes them far from New York. "Lead the Way" gets temporally cosmic with a riff that sounds like Loop's "Collision" dragged through a swamp of dark splatter, and Ron Asheton style wah-wah splurge. The big shift in sound is due to songs born of Ego Sensation's bass lines and keyboard melodies rather than Dave W's formerly dominant guitar. Instrumental "I Nomad" typifies this move, all glacial descent and burbling ice melt. The use of keyboards and synthesisers is nothing new for White Hills, as their masterpiece "H-p1" was awash with them, but there guitar still dominated. Maybe the less guitar heavy direction has been influenced by their friends and collaborators Gnod who have themselves completely abandoned guitars. "We Are What You Are" is more redolent of their previous album, and not just in title, opening with apocalyptic guitar menace. Its anthemic build seems to give a more positive spin to the gothic doom of "No Will." "We are the light that sets you free?" Then again maybe its just another ego sensation? "Automated City" hums on a motorik pulse, corrupting Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights" into a dystopia watched over by "big black shining eyes." Note the similarity if the word 'motorik' to the word 'motorists.' The title track "Walks for Motorists" walks similar new terrain but is more Star Wars than Blade Runner. Penultimate tune "Life is Upon You" breathes rotating bass line oxygen and is fed by discordant chunks of distorted keyboard drone, with Ego's almost pop backing vocals adding a questioning counterpoint. Whilst this doesn't surpass their previous album "So You Are... So You'll Be" it is still a great album. Just be prepared for less guitars!

This review was written for Optical Sounds zine.

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