In The Battle Years, the first LP from Hillsburn, opens harmonies blazing with a burst of energy. The Halifax quintet sounds like a stomp and holler choir grafted to a horn section filtered through folk-pop, falling somewhere between New Americana and Deep Canadian Indie. Which is to say, they cover a lot of ground. This eclectic collection of deftly narrated songs will keep you on your toes in two ways: there’s no way to anticipate what’s coming next and you’re bound to find yourself tapping along incessantly.
Their previously released single “Run Down” has echoes of a Shovels and Rope-esque luster, rife with angsty lyrics and loaded with foot stomping, both as an actual lyrical request (one, two, three, stomp your feet with me) and as an inevitable response to its contagious rhythm. It’s an instant theme setter, setting the soulful tone of the entire album—somewhere in our struggle we make a life worth living. Sometimes you reminisce about the freedom of youth, sometimes you look forward to aging gracefully and sometimes you’re just stuck in the rut of the daily trials of adulthood.
The grace with which they seamlessly transition genres highlights the versatility and variety of experiences the album shares. “Ava”, entirely unvarnished and accompanied only by sustained keyboard chords, further emphasizes life’s quest for purpose and connection. “I’m not a pretty boy, but I’m loyal and life’s long.” Wistful sadness may linger momentarily as you learn to digest Paul Aarntzen’s potent words. What you don’t catch in the lyrics will be made clear through their stirring harmonies which anchor the entire album.
In between pondering the possibility that we’ve inherited the flaws of our parents, the sinking sensation of learning to live within our limited means, and the ever-present reality of possibly looming heartbreak, flashes of optimism somehow manage to sneak in just when you think you might fall into full blown misery. “Throw your older arms around me, maybe we’ll be young again.” Alternatively, you could just sit back and enjoy the playful melodies and vocables. On the surface, it could easily be interpreted as a feel good album with light-hearted layers. Cheerful horns cross-sect with retellings of childhood enthusiasms, complete with fervently harmonic da-da-das!
Hillsburn has managed to transform the reality of our daily struggles into a series of songs that might just end up carrying us forward. With a song for every season, In The Battle Years speaks for the array of wordless emotions that we all experience. Rather than allowing themselves to be pigeon-holed by any particular genre, they’ve given themselves the freedom to make each song what it should be. The result is a series of captivating songs, and an album to be enjoyed in all occasions.
For more information visit www.hillsburn.com