Connecticut’s Hanging Hills (the band, not the mountainous ridge also from the state) have just released their eponymous EP. Folk, rock, country, and a little surf roll themselves together into this five-track debut that sounds mature beyond the young band’s years (I’m making an assumption of their youth. Based on photos, they’re either fairly young or they’re aging really well.)
The EP has some variation between songs, though a strange twang on the vocals stays constant. The opening track, “Ode to Olympia, WA” is vocally-driven with choral-style vocals singing every line together (including that twang, in tandem.) The result is a sort-of timeless folk/country song with a touch of surf through guitar solos. It would seem as if a little vocal twang would be called for by those genres, and it’s definitely present there – too present. It stays around for the rest of the album, and that would be fine but the inflection is so over the top that it starts to distract from the songs. It definitely doesn’t feel genuine; I mean, the band is from Connecticut.
As mentioned, there’s something timeless about the first three songs (“Ode,” “Untitled/Yours,” and “Stranger.”) The jangly guitar, smooth backing vocals, and folk/country/surf mix definitely have a retro feel while staying current. For a moment I was concerned with “Untitled/Yours.” It started off like a cheesy modern Christmas song, but it turned around. Speaking of “Untitled/Yours,” I have to commend that title choice. The impersonal/personal mix carries throughout the song and fits the subject matter of loving and leaving someone.
“Providence” and “Lucky on a Different Day” are more modern than the others. “Providence” is a slow, sad song that suggests the feeling of being worn out. The stand-out song has to be “Lucky on a Different Day.” It gives the most emotion of any song on the album, the singer gets to display a vocal range that didn’t come through on the earlier tracks. It also has more complex lyrics, and in fact just more lyrics, than the others. The bass line stands out and adds audible interest. It provides everything I felt was lacking on the rest of the album – emotion, attitude, grittiness – and held my attention. Plus the twang fits in with this song, the attitude and grit can carry it.
The one part of this album that’s killing me is that I can’t figure out why there is a picture of General Walter C. Whitaker on the cover. I can’t seem to find any parallels between the often drunk, often injured Civil War veteran and this album. I’ll forgive Hanging Hills though, mainly because their Facebook page says that bassist Max likes Canada (my homeland. I’m biased, ok?)