8/10• Way Back When
• Jersey City
• American Rail
• Double Dutch
• Jacob’s Ladder In addition to her various musical projects (including a stint as lead guitarist for Titus Andronicus, for which she is probably best known), Hilly Eye’s Amy Klein is an accomplished writer with a knack for engaging reflections not only on representations of the female in art, but also the collective consciousness of what is expected from so-called alternative music and the role it plays in the pursuit of maturity. In collaboration with her long-time friend Catherine Tung, Hilly Eye can be seen as Klein’s attempt to explore these issues further, to examine the collective consciousness of music that implicates the political as well as personal resistance and transcendence. ”Are we going to open our culture up to challenge oppressive systems of race and class, and privilege, and gender, and sexual orientation?” she asked in a particularly incisive piece for Flavorwire. “This is what rock and roll was meant for, and what the spirit that captures the collective imagination of youth can accomplish.”
Klein and Tung first met through their involvement in college radio at Harvard, reconnecting four years ago after bumping into each other at a Lightning Bolt concert. At the time, both were writers stepping away from the conventionalities of their experiences as musicians – Tung leaving her classical violin background to play drums, and Klein eventually departing from Titus Andronicus to realise her own creative vision – and this shared experience feeds into the duo’s full-length debut, Reasons To Live, an album aggressively mindful of the imperfections and affirmations of expanding one’s worldview, tied together by a mutual, organic, almost physical audacity.
Much of the record builds and breaks in a loop-textured wilderness, oscillating between vulnerability and empowerment. ‘Almanac’, for example, opens with a solid, heavy snare beat pulsing over a repeated guitar melody, but mid-song the rhythm shifts, invoking the mood and intimacy of ‘90s alternative rock as the atmosphere balloons into something bigger, blurring its way into darkness and violent mystery reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s EVOL. Elsewhere, the vocals and brash drumming of ‘Animal’ echo the last verse of Bikini Kill’s ‘Star Bellied Boy’ (a destructive anthem of victimisation by a dubious male feminist), while its rendition of violence and inner conflict focus on the same questions of gender and notions of expectation that Kathleen Hanna so consummately raged against.
Hilly Eye experiment with different sounds throughout. Second track ‘Jersey City’ is playful and abounds with psych-heavy guitar licks, while towards the rear of the record ‘Louisville’ embraces the bluesy sounds of its Kentucky homeland. The journey between these two cities is a contemporary, contemplative take on populist mid-‘70s Americana and hard rock. Such associations are easy to pick up in ‘Amnesia’, a graceful embrace of identity through declarative one-liners, in which Tung traces Klein’s unrestrained phonation with an overbearing deep, sludgy dropkick. The road isn’t always so clear, however. Roughly forty seconds in, ‘Double Dutch’ begins to convulse into hypnotic, finger-tapping pop-metal, travelling via Swans and Marnie Stern before ending in a stream of shimmery feedback.
The myriad of styles never sounds unfocused but is at times a little busy. Klein’s voice is occasionally lost under the loops and the reverb, particularly in ‘January’, on which it is submerged amid the blurred edges of psychedelia and pop rhythms. And, although no one could accuse Hilly Eye of lacking ideas, in view of their classically trained, multi-instrumental background, the guitar- and drums-heavy approach does raise some questions about unrealised potential. Despite these drawbacks, Reasons To Live is an invigorating and extremely capable debut, marking out Klein and Tung as a vernal pair bristling with talent, ideas and the nerves to go with them.