With excellent albums from Jason Urick, Pontiak and Dustin Wong still fresh, Thrill Jockey continue their 20th anniversary new release bonanza with another pair of very different long-players from Luke Roberts and White Hills. The Iron Gates At Throop And Newport, Roberts’ quickly turned-around follow-up to last year’s Big Bells & Dime Songs, was written in the guitarist’s Brooklyn apartment and recorded in his childhood home of Nashville with Lambchop’s Mark Nevers (before being mixed by Kyle Spence of Harvey Milk), but despite the increased production budget and assistance from a few hired guns – most notably Billy Contreras, whose aching fiddle cuts through the heart of several tracks here – Roberts has resisted the temptation to move away from the sparse gothic Americana stylings that made his debut such a captivating prospect. Favouring fingerpicked solo acoustic guitar and minimal percussion, Roberts’ lonesome country blues recall the train-hopping beat-folk of Dylan or Woody Guthrie spiked with a healthy dose of Gram Parsons’ alt-country twang; but whilst the album’s most arresting moments are stripped down to their bare bones – opener “I Don’t Want You Anymore” is so dry it feels like it could catch fire at any second – its sole electric freak-out, “His Song“, hints at the kind of Crazy Horse goodness that might lie around the corner should Roberts choose to embrace the full-band approach next time around. Kraut-loving psych heads White Hills have pursued many new directions over the past few years, but Frying On This Rock sees them returning to what they do best: rocking out. If their most recent releases have left you wishing they would quit playing with tone and texture and just open up the afterburners, then this five song set is going to put blisters on your palms; following the largely beatless noise concrete of 2011’s H-p1, here the core duo of Dave W. and Ego Sensation are joined by keyboardist Antronhy and long-time live collaborator Nick Name, whose powerhouse drumming drives these juggernauts relentlessly forward. Synthesizing all the essential elements of the White Hills sound, Frying has something for everyone; at four minutes, “Pads Of Light” might almost constitute a pop song, but “Robot Stomp” – which pounds a single chord into the ground for twelve minutes – and the fifteen-minute “I Write A Thousand Letters (Pulp On Bone)” showcase the band at their blown-out, hypnotic best.
Luke Roberts’ The Iron Gates At Throop And Newport and White Hills’ Frying On This Rock are both out March 19 on Thrill Jockey