Hilltop Hoods - State of the Art

State of the Art, the sassy new hip hop offering from Hilltop Hoods, deserves to be the soundtrack to this year's summer barbecues. With upfront, crisp beats and polished production, the tracks grab the attention throughout.

Key to the charm of the album is the interplay between all the vocalists, which is imaginative and lively, drawing on the services of Pharoahe Monch amongst others. The vocals have a guttural authority, are delivered with assurance and a good lyrical flow. The singers spit their words with panache, stretching syllables beyond ordinary limits, as they master complex rhymes with aplomb.

The brutal efficiency of the album's opening tracks reaches an apotheosis on the cartoonish fourth track, weaving sound effects and choruses around a massive drum beat. The album sustains a level of intensity during the remainder of its 12 tracks, using good tunes to give the album a party vibe.

Borrowing extensively from other genres and blending a mix of commercial styles, the album illustrates the versatility of hip hop, encompassing summery, uplifting tracks ('The Return' and 'Chris Farley'), soulful tracks ('Classic Example' and 'The Light You Burned'), high-impact showstoppers ('Hillatoppa', 'She's So Ugly' and 'Parade of the Dead'), and dub reggae ('Still Standing'). The album sits at the melodic end of the hip hop spectrum, particularly on tracks like 'Super Official', 'Chase That Feeling', 'Last Confession' and 'Fifty in Five'.

Aficionados can rest assured that the end product skilfully manages to retain its hip hop credentials and is not diluted by other styles. The album crams a lot into 12 tracks, making distinctive use of instrumentation (swirling strings at the start of 'She's So Ugly', jazzy flutes on 'Chris Farley', Fender Rhodes on 'Super Official', bar room piano on 'Chase That Feeling', live drums on 'Classic Example').

Cynics who consider hip hop a dead end should make an effort to check this one out, preferably on a large set of speakers.

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