The Hill and Wood may be named after a funeral home, but one would be hard-pressed to find a dead note on the band’s self-titled debut. Melodically, lyrically and symphonically, this album is thoroughly alive.
The Hill and Wood releases its self-titled album on Friday, November 11 at the Haven, with frontman Sam Bush supported by an outfit of horn players and backup singers.
That’s no surprise considering how long this music has been gestating, both in frontman Sam Bush’s head and on stages around town. For the past three years Bush has navigated the band through lineup changes and honed his songs in a wide range of venues, from the cozy confines of The Garage to the vast expanse of the Pavilion. On the resulting album, it’s clear that such patience and diligence has paid off handsomely.“Vacant Spaces” opens the record with stop-and-start percussion and droning synths and strings reminiscent of moments on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Sharing a simple melody that belies the song’s lyrical intricacies, Bush and Juliana Daugherty sing, “The sound of all the former years / Is just as loud and just as clear / As any voice is / Subconscious noises.” The lines that follow address life and love in a way that feels both intensely personal and universal.
“The Call” and “ICSWYW” pick up the pace, trading the somber mood for crunchier guitars and sinuous melodies that climb to triumphant, resounding finishes. Next comes the bare-bones folk of “The Disciple” and the particularly outstanding “Little Omaha.” Offering a novel turn on the “grass is always greener” proverb, Bush sings, “I dream of waking up in little Omaha / I only love the places that I never saw / I only love what’s strange.” With his soaring vocals bolstered by a horn section, the song approaches the orchestral flourishes of Beirut, swapping out Eastern European exoticism with a yearning for the American Heartland.
The band channels early Radiohead on “Futile Workhorse,” suggesting that Bush has the vocal range and nuance to rival Thom York. The intertwined chamber pop of “Brighter Man” would sound at home on Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan, and “Let Us Risk The Ship, Ourselves And All” could have come from the Canadian indie rock camp, falling somewhere between the stylings of Destroyer, Neko Case and Arcade Fire. Such influences might have seemedtoo direct if not for Bush’s powerful songwriting, which lets each song stand firmly on its own.
Things really lets loose on “Something Come From Nothing,” a growling garage-rock jam that culminates in a roaring, squealing guitar freak-out. Countering that frenzy is “All’s Well That Ends,” the album’s leisurely closer, which finds comfort in difficult endings by looking to the future. “The sun will rise / To your surprise / All by itself / Without your help,” sing Bush and Daugherty in the album’s final moments.
As the literal connotations of its name suggest, The Hill and Wood’s music has plenty of natural charm. But it’s the band’s careful cultivation of its terrain that has culminated in such a superbly lush album.