'White Hills are proponents of psychedelia as transformation', proclaims the blurb for the prolific band's new album Walks For Motorists. Quite a claim that. I’ve written press releases, and the temptation to collect together a series of ever more hyperbolic adjectives and adverbs is all encompassing. The problem is, they have to mean something. As I listened to ‘No Will’, the album’s opening track, my first exposure to the music of Dave W and Ego Sensation, I have to admit I was already pre-disposed against the band on this basis alone. Sure, they’ve worked on this record with Dave Wrench (Caribou, FKA Twigs), but once all the words and name-checking has fallen away, what’s under the bonnet? Within seconds, ‘No Will’ had dispelled my negativity. A pummelling riff, machine-gunned drums, just a hint of melodic light from some keyboards, splendidly aggressive vocals building to a frenzied apex of “who God would destroy he would first make man” (I think).
So, the tone is set? Oh no it isn’t. Immediately we’re in to the slow-build psych of ‘£SD or USB’, which is all dub bass and persistent synths. The two songs that begin this album are as chalk and cheese and within minutes I am once again reframing my thoughts on White Hills. Here is a band comfortable in its own skin. Within the wide realm of 'psych' they seem to be able to move around freely, almost at will. Gears shift from song to song. The snarling distortion of ‘Wanderlust’ morphs into the Led-Zep-esque ‘Lead the Way’, which is simply fabulous. The almost drone-like bass riff gives space to squalls of guitar and synth for a wondrous near nine-minute work out. My imagination leads me to a dark and atmospheric club somewhere where this song could easily become the highlight of someone’s gig-going year.
That’s the thing, there is no 'standard' for this album. No settling into a comfortable groove, tempo or modus operandi. From ‘Lead the Way’ we’re straight into the pulsing synths of ‘I, Nomad’, aptly titled for an album such as this, and from there ‘We Are What You Are’ takes us back to the pulverising power of the album’s opening. As Dave intones “We are the light that sets you free” it’s easy to get carried away on a wave of ecstatic acclamation. And so on, and so on. The tone, the vibe, it slips and slides. All the while, the riffs, originally it seems, built around keyboards and programmed loops, keep the listener locked right in. You are transported away from the humdrum, the normal (in my case a train carriage) and into a world “exposed, alive” full of possibility and hope. I don’t know if this is what White Hills were aiming for. At times it feels distinctively as they are seeking to make as much noise as it’s possible for two people to make together at any one time rather than anything more subtle or nuanced as that, but there are moments, more than a few of them on Walks for Motorists where the alchemy is programmed just perfectly and something happens. It is indescribable, but somehow you never want to leave this place. You want to stay here, enveloped in the aggression and beauty of White Hills, for as long as possible. In most cases this would mean listening to the album again as soon as the closing title track has grooved to its conclusion.
So perhaps, just perhaps, the claims of 'psychedelia as transformation' aren’t so far-fetched after all.
7Haydon Spenceley's Score