The genre of “alternative rock” is one that has become so frustratingly vague, it’s practically lost its meaning. Even worse, many current bands who claim to represent alt rock often toe a fine line between overdone service to 90’s nostalgia and repetitive mediocrity. Those bands that can successfully harness the sonic nuances of alt rock coupled with inventive creativity are few and far between.

So hallelujah for Boston indie rockers Hallelujah the Hills, whose four full-length releases in the past seven years have shown an astonishing amount of progress. Their most recent effort, Have You Ever Done Something Evil?, captures this five-piece finally growing into their own signature style. The record’s 12 tracks are packed full of captivating hooks and poppy, cascading synth leads that will be set on repeat in your brain for weeks.

Lead singer and guitarist Ryan Walsh sounds unabashedly honest on Something Evil. He’s truly found his voice on this record and the first track, “We Are What We Say We Are” demonstrates that perfectly. With no intro at all, the band is immediately off to a rowdy gallop on a track that sounds like REM at hyper-speed. Walsh even sounds a bit like a young Michael Stipe (REM) or Craig Finn of The Hold Steady as he croons through reflective, existential tunes. Lyrically he displays a unique sense of wit that is only occasionally marred.

This album definitely doesn’t hold back on grand crescendos or epic build-ups, with one of the better examples being “Home Movies,” a song that begins with Walsh singing delicately over clean guitar and subtle drumming. It ends with a huge chorus of people belting, “Have you ever done something evil?” alongside a chord progression that hints at something a bit more menacing. These gigantic sing-a-longs have become a staple of Hallelujah the Hills style, especially on songs like the mock phone survey “I Stand Corrected.” It oddly sounds like an English folk rock jam fit for raising a pint, as all five members chip in to wail “If you recall this, please press one.”

The track “Pick up an Old Phone” is the strongest on the record and features an excellent climactic buildup that makes it worth listening to for five plus minutes. No wonder it was featured as the BBC Radio6 song of the day back in April.

At the start of the song, we are alone with just Walsh and a muted acoustic guitar. The minimalistic indie sound then explodes into a magnificent, uplifting rock chorus only to be brought back down into dizzying synth groove. The Moog (synth) truly shines through the mix here as it cycles through an infectious melody countless times. The keyboards on the album don’t spend much time outlining the main melody like you might hear from a band like Motion City Soundtrack. Instead they linger and wait for their moment, gradually building off of earlier guitar riffs until the climax. It is these types of nuances that show the intricate thought put into the songwriting process for this album.

Unfortunately, as Something Evil passes the halfway marker, the song structures start to become noticeably similar and predictable at times. The constant motif of the dramatic buildup begins to feel overstated as a few of the songs drag on, with some repetitive riffs overstaying their welcome.

Despite these flaws, this recording sounds well rehearsed, thoughtful, and polished in most aspects. It’s certainly a summer listen, ideal both for speeding down the freeway or meandering through city streets. Hallelujah the Hills have done what many local indie and alt rock bands have failed to do: they’ve established their own original sound in a way that actually feels natural and compelling. Already recognized by the likes of Spin and Rolling Stone, there’s no doubt the Hills are on the rise.

Album Review: Hallelujah the Hills - Have You Ever Done Something Evil?
Pros
  • Cohesive, original sound
  • Clever songwriting and inventive synth parts
  • Infectious hooks and catchy riffs give replay value
Cons
  • Song structures start to become predictable
  • Lyrics struggle with wordiness, awkwardness at times
  • A few songs drag on without introducing anything new
7.6Overall Score

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