- by Rob Taylor Release Date:2015-08-28 Label: Rocket Recordings
Hills exemplify a world music approach to psychedelic jamming. The accumulated musical knowledge of the core members, Pelle [guitar/vox], Hanna [drums], Bob [bass], Kalle [guitar], and Tore [organ/vox], coupled with a willingness to draft in a number of other musicians of various persuasions, contributes to an invigorating and heterogeneous sound. A sound emphasising that musical boundaries are being broken down, genre specification becoming irrelevant.
In interviews, members of Hills have embraced the notion that their music is meditative and hypnotic, but these tags are most often downgraded or lost in translation, sometimes meaning just music containing relentless dirges, or lengthy jams relying heavily on loops and recurring themes. We now know that there are non-western forms of music, such as the musics of Africa and Eastern Asia that never contrived to be ‘psychedelic’ but are manifestly a spiritual confluence of the cultures from which they came, like Indian Raga, or the desert musics of the Tuareg people.
Sweden too has a long tradition of psychedelic music. One that found its origins in the late-’60s and early ‘70s, in the head tripping wig-outs of the likes of Baby Grandmothers, Pärson Sound, International Harvester and Träd Gräs och Stenar, and more latterly, Dungen. When Soundblab interviewed Hanna from Hills recently, she suggested that the new album Frid may well be the most Swedish sounding album they’ve made, subconsciously siphoning those 60s and 70s influences. I would add that they also bring a universal scope to their music. That’s the magic. The fact that those ‘whole world’ influences are not worn on their sleeves so much as embodied in their musical approach.
Frid is easily the most accomplished Hills album to date. A peak in creativity. Tracks like ‘Rise Again’ from Master Sleeps, were barely indistinguishable from the Wooden Shijps / Moon Duo style of hypnotic psych drone we’ve become accustomed to in modern western psychedelic rock. Frid, however, has a personality uniquely that of Hills.
Every track on Frid breathes new life into the world music scene. It does so by assiduously working at the margins of genre, incorporating folk, eastern and western sounds, occultish elements borrowed from metal (they do say, after all, that psych is the new black), and far and away most importantly, they bring it all together with such proficiency.
The collective imagination of Hills is as vast as the remote Swedish landscape. Whether or not there is a connection between the alleged medieval practices of the northern peoples of Korpilombolo, and between Hills and Goat remains a mute point, but the preternatural chanting and disembodied voices on ‘National Drone’ are pointing the compass towards the North Pole. Eastern sounds of the tamboura meld with a crisp attack on the high hat on ‘National Drone’. The track is a raga style hypnosis with an electric guitar counterpoint, that eerie chanting I mentioned, and all melding together into a kind of transcendental chamber symphony.
A gruesome premonition greets the listener on ‘Kollectiv’, a low drone beckoning something primative, something other-worldly, something exciting. A growling lead guitar freak-out is tempered by the philosophical exaltations of the sitar, awakening us from our bewildered sense with something altogether more stately, more refined. Such ruminations are rudely interrupted again by those ominous calls to nature.
‘Anukthal Is Here’ adopts a steady pace, with light guitar reverb and the gentle pattering of hand upon pig skin, the prismatic shifts dictated by abstruse chanting and a guitar line borrowing heavily from African tradition. This is all tied together with a beautiful melody sounding more folktronica than psychedelia. ‘Milarepa’, with its buzzsaw atonalism might have been a complicated listen, were it not for the flute hovering melodically in the foreground for its duration. Ian Anderson would smirk with joy at the majesty of the sound created by the flute on ‘Milarepa’.
The lovely incantations and subtle drive of nine minute meditation ‘Och Solen Sankte Sig Rod’ bubble away the time, never once drifting away through lack of invention, on the contrary the ideas and dynamic shifts of the string instruments install this at the highest level of any psych music I’ve heard.
The tuareg inspired ‘Death Will Find A Way’ closes out the album with an exquisite little reverie footnoting thirty eight minutes of unfettered inspiration.