Hilly Eye Reasons To Live(Don Giovanni ) Buy it from Insound
Amy Klein was one of my favorite parts about Titus Andronicus back in the day. I can recall seeing the band back in 2011 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ, while The Monitor line-up was still intact, and being entirely blown away by the sharp contrast between her introspective, soothing violin lines and outwardly aggressive guitar-strumming. So, naturally, I had mixed feelings when she left the band later that year. Part of me felt there was a lot of potential for Hilly Eye to offer up an album that made the split worthwhile, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we lost one of indie’s best instrumental pairings. Unfortunately, my gut instinct was right after all.
There are plenty of great ideas on Reasons To Live, but not exactly enough prowess in execution. Many of the songs tend to drone on and on, exhausting their few vocal hooks and ear worms until they just become plain irritating. This is most apparent on Jersey City, where Klein shrieks, You think you’re so cool/ You’ve got an appetite for destruction. Mild Guns N’ Roses reference aside, this is a pretty cool passage. Klein’s vocals are dark, aggressive, startling, and when the chord sequence changes, verge on the sublime. The problem is that the verse infinitely loops until the track literally collapses on itself. What could have been an interesting emotional and melodic sidestep quickly becomes a two minute-long fumbling misstep. Likewise, Jacob’s Ladder suffers from a similar redundancy, this time in instrumentation. While Klein’s chiming, repetitious guitar riff and droning power-chords are infectious at first, they quickly become drawn out and boring by mid-track.
Vocally-speaking, the songs here are pretty hit or miss. Klein and drummer Catherine Tung try to squeeze in as many folk-influenced harmonies as humanly possible, which is admirable, but doesn’t necessarily always work. On Way Back When, the duo immediately divide into a cascading two-part harmony, but it just doesn’t fit when juxtaposed against Klein’s super-saturated chords. I get that this was probably done on purpose for some sort of emotional affect or tone-poem metaphor, but it simply doesn’t work here. That isn’t to say that the duo’s vocals never work. One of the few things right about Jacob’s Ladder are the shifting, harmony-laden melodies that break the instrumentally-stagnant track out of its own inertia.
However, moments like these are few and far between, and usually followed by a blatant lapse in production. Such is the case with Double Dutch and Animal. After sitting through a mess of misplaced riffs and odd staccato vocals, Double Dutch finally began to win me over with its ethereal harmonies and a steady, climbing chord progression. When the track finally dissipates, I’m just about fully satisfied.... that is until Animal starts in. Klein’s yelping vocals are horribly off-key, and not in a charming, vulnerable way either. This is especially frustrating considering the rest of the song is pretty damn great -- Klein and Tung’s playing is ferocious; the two are locked in perfect synergy for the entire song. There are some truly fantastic, thought-provoking lyrics here, too. All the boys who get beaten up /All the girls who get beaten down, is probably the most powerful line on the entire album, but it’s completely drowned out by a lack-luster vocal delivery from Klein. I can’t help but see the whole song as just one big wasted opportunity.
Looking at it now, Amy Klein has been dealt a pretty unfair situation. With Reasons To Live, she not only bares the weight of proving herself as a solid songwriter, but also stands to differentiate herself from her former band. To her credit, she has absolutely carved out her own unique sound, far from the epic, prog-punk productions of Titus Andronicus. However, in the process she failed to deliver a consistent batch of songs. I still feel that there’s a lot of potential for Hill Eye to deliver a truly inspired effort, but Reasons To Live just isn’t it.8 February, 2013 - 04:20 — Andrew Ciraulo