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White Hills
Glitter Glamour Atrocity (Reissue) Nick MacWilliam , August 15th, 2014 07:19

If Miles Davis was right, and we really can equate creative knowledge with freedom, then Dave W must be one of the least burdened cats in modern rock. The leader of NY outfit White Hills possesses the uncanny knack of always knowing what to do. How else to explain the expansive scope of his band's sound and the ability to get it right virtually every time, whether pushing into the darkest recesses of blistering psychedelia or the outer limits of cosmic groove. You could call it experimental. You could call it radical. You'd probably call it rock & fuckin' roll. And you'd be right every time.

Knowledge, of course, is also power, and White Hills are a riff-hungry force of distortion. With the re-release of 2007's Glitter Glamour Atrocity, the extent of Dave W's vision becomes apparent. White Hills are to guitar convention what gas-guzzling 4x4s are to the Amazon rainforest, a one-fingered salute at generic song structure. Mr W and bass player Ego Sensation think nothing of hammering out the same alt-thrash riff for minutes on end, as in songs such as 'Long Serve Remember' or the 13-minute title track. They also display a total disregard for choruses, which, as far as I'm concerned, is worthy of an extra star on its own.

The album's re-release comes after White Hills' recent appearance (as "themselves") in existential vampire seduction flick Only Lovers Left Alive, from doyen of US indie cinema Jim Jarmusch. The song which featured in the film, 'Under Skin Or By Name', is built on the pummelling core of Sensation's bass, over which Dave W liberally applies the theory that wah-wah is like money or apricot jam: you can never have too much of it. It's as close to a 'hit' as the band are likely to have, the mainstream appeal of extended scuz-rock space jams being somewhat limited.

White Hills tend to go minimalist on vocals, allowing the music to do most of the talking, as W and Sensation focus on holding on to the reins of the noise they create. When Dave does get on the mic, it's often to deliver repetitive refrains with little semblance of lyrical narrative. "One day, hopefully, we will see," he says on 'Under Skin Or By Name'. He later adds, "We're all the same." And it works. Why say more when pretty much everything can be summarised by those few words?

There are several layers to White Hills' sound, and W is as comfortable at the mixing desk as when bleeding his guitar. This is most evident in 'Distance', a shimmering piece of industrial soundscape. The introspective tone of 'Spirit Of Exile' comes from sampled natural sounds and a driving tribal rhythm. "Can you feel it? Do you see it? It's coming," says Dave, as he evokes idyllic notions of getting the hell away from it all.

But from what exactly? These guys are from Brooklyn, who wouldn't want to live there? Well, let's think back to when Glitter Glamour Atrocity was made. Ah, yes. The record references the global instability of the time, mainly through sampling the other W. You know, that one. Dubya. Composed largely in 2006, released in 2007, GGA recalls an era defined by the war on terror, a time of political awakening for many US artists who found themselves in an intensely divisive country fast coming off the rails.

There are several songs on GGA – 'Distance', 'Spirit of Exile', the space freighter-like gloom of 'Passage', the folksy 'Somewhere Along The Way' – whose titles suggest a desire to escape the paranoid-aggressive attitudes dominant at the time. In 'Long Serve Remember', George W. Bush's worryingly inept-yet-sinister public proclamations are edited into what many will feel more accurately reflects his administration's geo-political agenda: "I was a threat to the United States," says Dubya. "I was a torturer, a killer... I was a horrible individual." The good W, our man Dave, sums up the sense of waking nightmare that was Bush's presidency with a screeching lick of demon proportions, delivered over a percussive wall of fury that you don't doubt for one moment is anything other than passionately felt.     

And, in spite of the various quieter moments, it is undoubtedly the relentless surge of White Hills' sound that has come to characterise GGA, seven years after its original release. It concludes with the lengthy title track, essentially a freak-out summary of what was going on at the time. Again, 9/11 is at the centre of the band's what-the-fuck statement of bewilderment, contained in such neo-con pearls as "We couldn't wait for the bombs to start raining down on Saddam Hussein." Like an impending head-on collision with reality, the riff barely delineates, hammered out in a one-note barrage of enraged incredulity.

Rather than make overt political statements, Glitter Glamour Atrocity holds a mirror up to the collective meltdown from which it emerged. In this way, it is still as relevant a piece of social commentary as it was back in 2007, as modern consensus continues to be governed by similar events. There have been several labels applied to White Hills, but most of them seem sketchy: stoner rock? It's too fast. Psychedelic rock? Too indignant. Cosmic rock? To me, this is a roar that rises from the depths rather than descends from the heavens. What is clear is that, beneath the intensity, Glitter Glamour Atrocity is a highly considered piece of work, and one which delivers a searing riposte to the new world order.   

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