Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stream: Hallelujah the Hills - No One Knows What Happens Next

In October of last year, I took a trip down to where people were camping out for Occupy Boston and caught a performance by Hallelujah the Hills. One of the songs they presented to the crowd was "Hungry Ghost Extraordinaire". The pensive ballad was a taste of what was to become their third album, No One Knows What Happens Next. Luckily, I snagged a video of their performance to tide me over. Having listened to that song so many times before the albums release, I allowed the anticipation to build sky high. The record has finally arrived and I've since had the chance to see whether they could meet such expectations. Once the sing-along chorus kicked in on the thumping bass-driven opener "Get Me in a Room", I knew that those expectations were about to be met and surpassed.

No One Knows What Happens Next is certainly their most polished record to date. Their songwriting was always a bit chaotic but here everything seems meticulously pieced together. This is typically something I would complain about, but it works in their favor in this case. Frontman Ryan Walsh’s worldly vocals help carry the weight of the heady songs within. In the album's opening line, he admits, “it would be wrong for me to sing the blues” and dares to defy it in the proceeding tracks. The themes of uncertainly and desperation run deep through these songs yet each has a lining of optimism. He confronts his despair head on with a pleasant "Hello" on "Nightingale Lightning", an instrumentally rich pop song that would appease Spoon fans.

Standout "Hunger Ghost Extraordinaire" makes subtle but effective use of singer Marissa Nadler's haunting backing vocals and does justice to live version I witnessed. The album moves along at a seamless pace that melds their diverse song structures together. The melancholic waltz of "Dead People’s Music" shows how well the band utilizes varied elements in the longer tracks. The Rhodes piano bubbling underneath the temperamental verses adds atmospheric charm and the trumpet brings the chorus to soaring heights. The closing track "Call Off Your Horses" ends in the kind of grand movement that has made Broken Social Scene a household name. Hallelujah the Hills have always been one of the great hidden gems of beantown. With their new release, I am ready to proclaim them as one of the most underrated bands in the country.

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