Like most of their space-rock brethren, White Hills build head-trips out of semi-improvised, often spontaneous layers of riff and rhythm. That organic, cumulative process reached its zenith with the group’s stellar 2011 album, H-p1. Guitarist-singer David W. and his gang of inner-space astronauts take a more conventional approach on the new Frying On This Rock. Comprising five lengthy jams that were honed on the road over the past year, the album sounds at first like another hypnotically nihilistic White Hills drone-strike. But instead of helping to intensify its cyclical assault, all that practice and preparation seem to have robbed Frying of some of its sizzle.
That’s not to say the disc doesn’t dreamily devastate. White Hills has always specialized in the harder, more aggressive edge of space-rock, and Frying is no different. “Pads Of Light” unhinges itself like the jaws of an alien, twitching with distortion and dripping acidic incantations. “I Write A Thousand Letters” throbs with a chaotic, cosmic pulse that’s equal parts Can, Stooges, and Sun Ra. But the 12-minute instrumental “Robot Stomp” could diplomatically be considered filler—that is, if it were actually substantial enough to fill much space. Instead, the plodding, aimless track fails to harness its own bulk. Or even get out from under it.
The album’s biggest drawback, though, is its tone. Where H-p1 chewed through eardrums, Frying sort of squelches. Which is surprising, seeing as how engineer Martin Bisi has done noisy justice to everyone from Swans to Boredoms. Despite that, a few rows of teeth have been pulled from the group’s usually ravenous guitar-and-synth attack—and the whole affair is sunk in a dank murk that obscures the atmosphere rather than heightens it. Still, with incredible peaks like “Song Of Everything,” the lackluster sound is forgivable. At nine minutes, not a moment is wasted; like a lopsided centrifuge with no off switch, it wobbles nauseatingly until liquefying into a psychotropic, spoken-word protoplasm. “Spread your wings / Fly away,” chants W. as he lures the song to the lip of the abyss. It’s a hard offer to resist.