Hilly Eye - Reasons to Live

by Steve Rhodes Rating:6.5 Release Date:2013-02-18

Revivalism isn't a dirty word. With the 80s being successfully reinvented and celebrated again in recent years and guitar bands placing their homage to Dinosaur Jr, Pavement and the like, it's nice to see a resurgence in female-fronted guitar bands looking for inspiration from the past. Two-piece Hilly Eye are loosely, but mistakenly, linked to riot grrrl, but instead seem to see stalwarts Throwing Muses, Sleater-Kinney and Sidi Bou Said as their peers. However, their debut, Reasons to Live, is far from a pastiche.

Opener 'Way Back When' nicely sums up the band's intent. Fuzzy guitars, plenty of spacious riffs and with drums and vocals set back in the mix, it is a melodic, swirling song that neatly showcases Amy Klein's vocal. However, it is overladen with effects and lacks any real weight or dynamism.

'Almanac', while possessing a nice vocal, suffers in the same way, feeling limp and relying on effects rather than any discernible tune. 'Jacob's Ladder', the title track of their debut EP, likewise is a slow starter of a song which doesn't go anywhere. It benefits from a dual vocal and maintains the angular guitars that dominate the album, but lacks any oomph and drive.

The main problem of the album is that many of the songs feel like sketches cobbled together, rather than bona-fide, fully fledged songs. Numbers such as 'American Rail' and 'January' show greater promise and add more backbone to the album, particularly in the guitars, but both still feel unfinished, making little impression on the memory once they fade out. There are, though, some absolute gems on the record, often where the band deviate from their normal template.

'Louisville' shows a more operatic side, reminiscent of Miranda Sex Garden in its dual vocal, perfectly supplementing the lightly strummed, then politely bludgeoned guitars. 'Jersey City' takes an introspective, slow pace with similarly understated guitars, but also contrasts its vocals throughout the song from the seraphic to the shrieking, giving memory to Angelica and Rosa Mota. The line, "You've got an appetite for destruction", perhaps showing their appreciation for Guns N' Roses, is shrieked out in a 'Valley Girl'-kind of way which almost borders on the annoying, but at least shows a strong variation in style. 'Double Dutch' also mixes up the structure of the song, with bits of Kim Gordon in the vocals and Radial Spangle in the guitar construction. Like Lush and Throwing Muses reinterpreted by The Organ, it is a very intriguing song.

The highlight of the album is 'Animal', thankfully not a Def Leppard cover. The guitars are dreamier, well structured and more layered, packed full of melody, and the vocals soar with their dark subject matter: "All the boys who get beaten up, all the girls who get beaten down". The song regularly shifts between the above and an engrossing, almost desperate vocal with a stumbling bassline. A delightful, schizophrenic number.

So Reasons to Live is a patchy but welcoming debut, with plenty of promise and forward-thinking, without simply resembling a Sleater-Kinney tribute band. With a little more refinement, focus and development, Hilly Eye could make a far bigger impact than they're likely to.

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