If you've gotten around to absorbing H-p1, the latest mind-expanding record by New York space-rock trio White Hills for the Thrill Jockey imprint, here’s some exciting news: in March, they'll release Frying on this Rock, a five-song LP recorded with Martin Bisi, a No Wave-era engineer who's worked with Bill Laswell, Brian Eno, John Zorn, Sonic Youth and Herbie Hancock (he recorded Future Shock, the 1983 album that yielded the unlikely hit "Rockit").
The songs on H-p1 — a double-album loosely configured around the notion that our government has been systematically co-opted and controlled by major corporations, a heavy-rock, next-generation Kid A, Occupy Wall Street for the ears — hit as tortured, desolate blocks of sound.
Frying is less cloudy, more concise (although the last track is another in a long line of 15-minute epics) and not as synth-driven. There's a greater degree of separation between instruments. Lyrically, it's less bleak.
The songs are also road-tested. "We were doing a lot of touring around the time we figured out it was time to record," Dave W., the band's guitarist and founder, said by phone from a park bench in New York City. "So we had started to mess around with writing new material on the road... We used these three months of touring to see what happens and how the songs felt live, how people reacted to them."
Onstage, White Hills are all about spectacle. They transport the audience, locking them into a meditative state. It's entertainment bordering on ritual.
"The whole act of doing everything is cleansing to my soul, and I think that's why the music gets into a state of meditation," W. said. "In repetition, there are so many intricacies, the way the music rolls and evolves, it's cyclical. For me, I could just play like that all the time. It's a release and it’s the way I work through frustrations. But I also understand that people like to hear songs."
For W., who was born in New York and grew up in San Francisco, seeing Iggy Pop at an early age was galvanizing. "It was the most the most violent and thrilling experience I've ever had," he said. "It was like I was going to die from all the beer bottles being thrown and the broken glass, and then being totally taken with Iggy Pop just standing there with all these things flying at him." It fueled his thinking about how to be onstage and put on a good show, how to dress, how to perform.
"There are so many bands that tour and play music that look dumpy, that don't do anything to make themselves not look dumpy," W. said. "They look just the guys down the street who work at the coffee shop. There's no difference between what they do onstage and what they do at the coffee shop. For me, it was always an experience, and doing something that generates that feeling of excitement and anticipation, I want people to feel that, like, 'I'm going to a show,' not just going to see another group of people they'd see somewhere else."
He came up with the space rock brand. "I considered the music to be expansive," he said. "I was a big fan of Hawkwind, and I started this band as the child of Hawkwind, really. I think the music has a late-'70s punk vibe to it as well, and people don’t really catch that as much. But you look at Hawkwind: they were punks. They were punk rockers. They were eating acid, but they were punks. They weren't the Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead. They were out to fuck you up. They were loud and intense."
Nowadays, W. adds the qualifier fuzzed out motorik to space rock. "I'm indifferent to the psychedelic rock term," he said. "I think of that as truly jarring music, music that comes out of left field. The mix is all weird [in psychedelic rock]. It can make you feel like you are on an acid trip. I don't think I've fully achieved that."
White Hills w/Pontiak, Dec. 9, 9 p.m., $6, Rudy’s Bar and Grill, 1227 Chapel St., New Haven, (203) 865-1242Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times