If ever there was an album that was made for this blog it is this one. My idea behind ‘The Fragmented Flâneur’ was to take tangental strolls through our splintered culture… to reflect, in particular, on how we can use music to understand our own feelings and contexts. This, it seems, is what White Hills have done with this new album; which somehow seems to have caught the current zeitgeist perfectly.
Using the sounds and atmospheres of their native New York City as inspiration… Dave W and Ego Sensation have taken field recordings to generate a series of tracks which cumulatively and collectively allow the listener to build up a picture which reflects the diversity and chaos of this unique and strangely alluring city.
This is a set that is similarly out there on its own… When you first listen to it you are struck by the similarities to a number of post-punk bands: there’s Wire, Cabaret Voltaire, Killing Joke, Gang of Four, Gary Numan and Einstürzende Neubauten in there… although the album that really came to mind was The Stranglers’ Black and White which, as I mention elsewhere, was released before most of the above bands’ recordings (not CV obviously).
This is because it seems to find that balance between the reflection of a dystopian world while also finding the human elements within it. So while the timbre of the music here is fuzzy and metallic there is also a real sense of humanity within these recordings. There is a love for the chaos and the sludge of the city… and affinity which really shines through that, to my ears, gives the album far more depth… something that is evident with many additional listens.
Indeed, with it on repeat the you begin to get a real feeling of the ebb and flow of the city… as the beat of the hammer comes down repeatedly… as the dissonant angularity becomes part of the pattern and sonic topology of the mind.
In this I was reminded of the times that I have really listened intently to Black Sabbath, peeling away the accretions of celebrity and rock deity that smothers the band’s music… when you get down to the human level of the band and their experiences. On ‘Splintered Metal Sky’ White Hills seem to have similarly peeled back the layers of the city (I’ve just re-watched ‘The Wire’ and perhaps that is on my mind), but there is a sense of deconstruction here. There isn’t a narrative as such… instead you find fragmentation and disjunction as you move from track to track (the shortest is six seconds, the longest just short of six minutes)
However, as I have already intimated, familiarity with the music does bring with it a certain resolution… and there are moments here where you find silences and melodies, most noticeably in the final (and lead) track ‘Illusion’ which you can hear below.
This, then, feels like a real labour of love for White Hills. It is an album which at the same time pulls no punches, yet is cut through with the sort of affinity that only someone living in the city day after day can reproduce. It is an album that I suspect was conceived before the pandemic (and I’m aware that New York was hit hard and early) and yet somehow reflects where we are at the moment… as the usual chaos was replaced by a different sort of upheaval for a while… where inertia was never really on the agenda. We are left in this confused and fragmented state which ‘Splintered Metal Sky’ somehow just captures.
‘Splintered Metal Sky’ is available to pre-order from White Hills (North American orders) and God Unkown Records (European orders). There will, as I understand it, be a number of limited edition versions of this record released.
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