The Agit Reader

Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia, June 18

June 27th, 2018  |  by Brian O'Neill


It seems like local psych rock warriors Gondola have been supporting every big bill of the lysergic variety in town: they previously played with Earthless, Nebula, Loop, and more recently, Acid Mothers Temple and Chrome. However, this tour seemed like the best match for the scruffy trio due to their penchant for densely packed metallic volume.

Bassist Jordan Blumling resists the urge to play along with vocalist/guitarist Rocky Rinaldo, following his own muse with drummer Tim Plunkett. It gives a solid foundation to the effect-laden distortion, an almost post-punk feel that could seem out of place with the Stonehenge riffs and wah-wah pedal solos, but that isn’t the case. The rhythm section is the designated driver allowing Rinaldi to imbibe to his heart’s content so it would be a shame if he didn’t oblige.

A contrast to the primitivism that Gondola espouses, White Hills is modern performance art. This duo is still a time capsule of sorts, rekindling the days when CBGBs was not a high-end haberdashery and the Lower East Side of Manhattan was grimy and slightly terrifying.

Dave W played guitar and pounced around the stage like an untamed animal smelling blood in the air. He and drummer Ego Sensation (pretty sure not her given name) played along to prerecorded synth and bass. The two are punks playing sinister industrial cabaret with hints of fuzzy psychedelia, all layered within the droning skronk of guitar and reverb-infused vocals.

It’s not shocking that the band has recorded with Martin Bisi; the sound is as intimidating as Swans, as regimented as Cop Shoot Cop, and as brutally disturbing as Unsane. New York has changed a lot in the past decade or so, but White Hills don’t know or don’t care. Either way, they’re a welcome reprieve from cultural as well as musical gentrification.

Ufomammut literally translates as an “unidentified flying object mammoth,” which is a roundabout way to describe the band in every sense: this is wooly, huge space rock the likes of which might have been what Hawkwind would have eventually sounded like if Lemmy never got kicked out. He would have streamlined the band, stripping it to its essence. (After all, the classic Motörhead lineup was a trio.) He would have kept the psychedelia (he wouldn’t have joined if he didn’t have an affinity for it), but made it louder and unfathomably heavy. He would have made it evil.

Classic psychedelic bands had kaleidoscopic bursts of random colors as a backdrop. Ufomammut does as well, though they mix in more modern images—beads of water on a car hood, an ominous hole in a wall and the Wonderland it leads to, abandoned cottages in picturesque settings—among the dissonant dystopic blur. This ain’t the summer of love.

The trio play the most guttural, primitive psyche rock imaginable. It could be mistaken for punk rock if measured by fury alone, a glorious bludgeoning noise that never seems to let up. This feeling of relentless, unending malaise is even more palpable because the hirsute group does not engage in any chatter between songs or play to the crowd in any meaningful way. It’s as if they’re in a trance and their mission is to impart the hypnosis upon observers who they otherwise ignore.

It would be disconcerting if it wasn’t so fucking immense. Eerie effects were presumably made by triggering different pedals. Poia’s riffs reimagine Tony Iommi joining Neurosis (it seemed inevitable that they would wind up on the band’s Neurotic Recordings); bassist Urlo bounces around while remaining locked in with Vita whose unwavering pummeling downplays the downtuned, downturned set which seemed like one giant jam. They paused briefly only once when the crowd implored the band for an encore.

There are almost as many space rock bands as there are actual parsecs in space. None of them are as crushingly heavy as Ufomammut and scant few are as good.

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