When I first got my advance copy of White Hills’ forthcoming full-length, Walks for Motorists, I was reading through Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Now I’m not a huge sci-fi buff or anything, but needless to say Dick is great, and I think that what I like about him so much might have to do less with the things that fill up his worlds, and more with the situations and attitudes of the people therein. That is to say, what is most characteristic and compelling about the future as he presents it is not tangible things like flashy new technology or lush planetary landscapes. Instead what stands out, what most vividly colors his future worlds, are the mindsets of his characters, both individual and en masse, and the way that the mental state and the reliability of reality have been conditioned and warped by various dystopian circumstances which are strangely, hauntingly recognizable to the contemporary reader.
So I’ve got Dick on the brain (ha!), and when I start listening to the White Hills album it just feels seamless. This album sounds (to me) like a Dick novel, and I may or may not get into more specifics as to why I make the comparison, but to put it concisely, White Hills is a band whose signature, absolutely unmistakable sound does not necessarily stem from the smaller, more tangible details of their music. All the notes are right, the sounds sound good, the words say things, but White Hills is a whole greater than the sum of these parts. If I had to boil it down, I’d say that the resulting reduction would be a posture that defines White Hills. And it’s a posture which, like those suggested in Dick novels, deals very heavily with ideas of time travel, states of consciousness, and the delicate nature of reality.
Of course, this all sounds a bit conceptual, which is well and fine, but they are concepts that would be far too easily squandered, abused, and/or caricatured if not executed with a level of craft equal to that proposed by vision. I believe that a very unfortunate symptom of contemporary understandings of creativity is the tendency to equate “having ideas” to “being creative”, when in fact ideas are merely seeds, potent but powerless before sprouting. To be creative you must actually create, and this means putting your hands on something. Walks for Motorists is a great example. White Hills the band may be largely founded on concept, attitude, imagery, and other things that are less than palpable, but Walks for Motorists the album is most impressive, in my opinion, not for its vision but for its execution.
So what I’m saying is that this record shows an astounding level of meticulousness; each note, each sound, presents itself as a brushstroke, carefully applied with precision and grace. And often in the most surprising ways! It’s easy to listen to an album like The Downward Spiral and say, “Wow, this album really took some craft to make. Every time I listen I notice 6 more layers of sound. I wonder if I’ll ever really be able to wrap my head around the whole mountainous collage that Trent pored over for months of strung-out tedium in that house of ill repute.” And I love that album, don’t get me wrong, but I want to use it as a foil to Walks for Motorists because the latter is able to achieve an opposite but equal level of sublimity without ever using density as a crutch. There is a surprising amount of sparsity, of economy, on this album, but every bit of space, every decision to not overdo it with the instrumentation, is just as impressive and fruitful an artistic decision. Without overwhelming the listeners with sonic trivia, White Hills is still able to create a completely immersive aural experience, and in this context their mastery over sound construction is made all the more impressive by its tendency towards subtlety and grace.
I realize that I’ve once again reached the generous end of what should constitute a reasonable length for an album review without getting into a single specific. Well fuck it, that’s how I write. Listen to it for yourself because it’s a wonderful album from one of Brooklyn’s most talented, consummate, and truly creative bands. Walks for Motorists contains a completely progressive and completely unique, forward-thinking kind of psychedelia, and as its creators White Hills show themselves to be prophets of time and consciousness without equals.
Listen to kickoff track “No Will” below, and click here for presale information.