We knew there would be changes coming with Hillsburn’s sophomore album, The Wilder Beyond. They’ve moved away from the more traditional elements found of their debut, In The Battle Years, and although life may have beaten a paralyzing fear of change into us, Hillsburn’s move towards a more modern sound is a good thing.
Veering away from their folk-roots, Hillsburn decided to explore the friendly world of pop music, and the inside of singer/lyricist Paul Aarntzen’s Halifax apartment along with it. For all the effect the move had on the album’s production, we assume Aarntzen keeps a porcelain sculpture of King of Pop Michael Jackson (and accompanying Bubbles) in his apartment.
The most obvious difference to their sound has been Rosanna Burrill’s violin taking a backseat. It’s still there, most notably on tracks like ‘Cover It Up’ and ‘Sun Ought To Shine’, but it’s not the driving force we heard on in In The Battle Years. Instead our ears are treated to a whole lot of Clare Macdonald. Percussion is front and center on The Wilder Beyond. It’s no bodhrán, and the change distinctly brings the band into the realm of pop rock.
Amidst Hillsburn’s mad pop dash is their track ‘Young Desire’ . The song stands out, perhaps not quite as “wild and it’s sweet and pathetic” as its lyrics would suggest, but it builds on an uncharacteristically vulnerable delivery from Burrill into something akin to a pop-punk anthem. It sings of innocence and experience and perhaps the sense of loss that comes when exchanging the former for the latter.
At no point on the album can the band be heard more clearly diverging from form than their song ‘Everywhere’. Produced by Halifax rapper Classified, the song hits hard with an edge.
The Wilder Beyond is never so markedly different that the album might be mistaken for anything other than Hillsburn. The songs still possess the same trademark sound of big builds with their choruses getting belted out through a sea of harmonies.
While they may have shifted their sound, at their core Hillsburn deliver their songs with the same cutting honesty. They’re just shouting it a bit louder than they were before.