Stop Mute Defeat by White HillsRelease date: May 19, 2017
Label: Thrill Jockey
White Hills have always had a political streak with the band’s views on society often forming the backbone of their lyrics and music. Glitter Glamour Atrocity aside, this has often got lost within the supercharged space rock of their previous albums, although the visceral anger has always shone through. Although never a band to stand still, that music suddenly changed tack with 2015’s Walks For Motorists which swapped the psychedelics for a sound more in tune with 80’s goth. It was an abrupt change but one which was still recognisably White Hills. It also allowed for the vocals to pierce through.
On Stop Mute Defeat that sound has changed again although we still remain resolutely within an 80’s timeframe. This time it is the bleached electronics of Gary Numan which feeds into an almost soulless world of corruption and a media zombie nation. Stripped to the bone, it allows for the lyrics to become the main listening point albeit they too, are presented in a repetitive manner, devoid of any narrative. Instead they take their cue from industrial post punk with Throbbing Gristle becoming a jumping off point.
Lyrics verging on sloganeering, this isn’t the barbed nuance of a Gristle lyric, which can often verge on brutal parody in its intent. Instead you get the monotonous drawl of “we lose interest in a second”, repeated over opening track ‘Overlord’, almost meaningless until taken into context with the sparse electronic music and clinical coldness. Warmth is stripped out as we are thrust into the dark world of media exploitation, turned into the aforementioned zombie nation, glazed eyes flickering each time the lyrics spew forth.
Where-as Gnod may find release in their anger, here there is no escape. It’s a devoid world, once again painting a bleak outlook on the underworld of a New York taken over by the culture of media. It’s a world which White Hills have spent their career exploring, one foot always in the avant garde art scene, the other in the post punk fall out. This is psychedelia, but not the kind that you may be used to. Instead this is music which expands your mind within electronic confines, it’s dark and disturbing, the epitome of a bad trip.
This album may actually be the most “New York” album they have released yet, which is unusual considering the primary influences. The electronic sounds of the early 80’s travelled well though and now make for some interesting interbreeding. The coldness almost becomes one with the hugeness of the city and that ever forbidding feeling that someone is watching you, be it through the eyes of the television, the giant billboards of Times Square, or the app on your phone, White Hills tap into that on Stop Mute Defeat. In an age of Trumpism this becomes even more relevant and unnerving.
Unlike anything else in their catalogue, although their are distant similarities to Glitter Glamour Atrocity, this album stands as not just a new direction but also one that can be mined further. Thematically it continues to dissect and engage in a political manner, always intelligent, forever questioning. Musically, it’s probably their most interesting yet with the sparse nature allowing for the instruments to breathe. Where before it aimed to rip your face off, here it seeks an incessant path into your ears through repetition. By leaving space between the repetition, it becomes something altogether more monstrous.
White Hills have always been a great band, here they become essential.