White Hills - 's/t'
(Thrill Jockey 2010, thrill 232)
From Aural Innovations April 2010 update
First, let me say, I am a White Hills fan. Heads on Fire was one of my top 3 favourite albums of 2007. But my feelings about their new self-titled work are somewhat mixed. There is some stellar stuff on this album, to be sure, but there are some parts that drag, and aren't quite up to what I would have expected from White Hills. Overall, it's another strong album though. Let's take a look at it.
Things get started with Dead, a noisy, riffing rocker full of weird wailing sounds, with vocals that range from dreamily melodic to deranged cries. It's not bad, but I did find it a little repetitive at times. Counting Sevens makes up for it though, being a great solid slice of instrumental space rock, with lots of whooshing cosmic effects. Three Quarters, on the other hand, kind of plods on and on for the first five minutes (with the singer repeating 'on and on' over and over again!), before it really catches fire in the last four minutes with some smokin' guitar work. Let the Right One In (a reference to the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel?) creates a nice, gloomy atmosphere with moody bass and drums, and washes of spacey synth. There are also sound effects layered into the mix of everyday normal things like dogs barking and people chatting in the street, but along with the slowly building tension of the instruments, they take on some intriguingly ominous undertones. It builds to a frantic ending of driving rhythms and haunting vocals. At 13-minutes, it's perhaps a touch too long for what it's doing, but still remains and effectively downbeat piece. We Will Rise seems almost a continuation of the moodier part of Let the Right One In with more of the same sound effects floating around beneath some dark bass and drums, more softly wooshing synths and a dash of eerie, almost bluesy guitar. It's effective ambient music, and I suppose it's good when you get the unexpected, but I was expecting something a perhaps a little different than the last piece. Admittedly, it doesn't have the same rhythmic structure as the previous piece, but it does really feel like a coda to it. After that, I think, okay, let's get back to some good rocking. But no, we get Glacial, which as the title might suggest, is a very glacial, slow, ambient piece with icy sheets of noise and drone layered upon each other. It is quite good though, and provides for a nice space journey.
In fact, all the music is good, and maybe it's just a pacing issue. The LP version re-orders the tracks, as well as dropping Counting Sevens (a pity) and the two purely ambient tracks in favour of a couple of pieces not found on the CD (which I haven't heard). I'm thinking though that the track order on the LP might serve the music better than it does on the CD. Of course, with all this modern technology at our disposal, it's easy to just reprogram the order to whatever you like. I hope I didn't sound like I was down on the ambient pieces though. It's not a case of I want the band to rock and forget about this ambient stuff. I think they do ambient quite well. It's rich, organic, and evocative stuff. In fact, I'd like to hear them do an entire album of ambient. What an amazing space journey that would be! And not to be all negative and whatnot, I'd like to say that the album does end spectacularly. The 12-minute Polvere di Stella is probably my favourite track (not just on this album, but of anything they've done). Here the repetitive rhythm works in the music's favour because what's happening over it twists and turns with churning, manic guitars, cosmic synths and dreamy space vocals chanting mysterious words about leaving this world behind and being sunshine. It all dissolves into a complex swirling sonic whirlpool, as if we've just been sucked through a black hole, before the riffing returns to finally languidly drift off into space. Leaving this world behind indeed!
Okay, so that was an awesome ending. And all in all, the album is a good listen with some very strong moments. They must have had a reason for laying it out the way they did though, and maybe it'll just take me some time to tweak to that.
For more info, visit: http://www.thrilljockey.com
Visit the band at their website: http://www.whitehillsmusic.com
Also listen to some of their music on their Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/whitehills
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald