Hallelujah the Hills created waves with their 2009 album, Colonial Drones, a fuzzy, rocked out, critically-acclaimed affair. With their latest entry, No One Knows What Happens Next, the Boston quintet have polished up the production and lost some of their edge in the process.
No One Knows… is a fairly even-keeled album through and through, so the songs that stand out either quicken the pace or change the formula slightly. Album opener (and strongest track) “Get Me in a Room” has a charging drum and bass intro that supports lead singer Ryan Walsh’s heavy baritone-like cinder blocks. The band then slowly adds in a guitar line before the chorus explodes with a backing choir chanting, “Nice tries on some borderline/title TBA just get me in the room.” This is where Hallelujah the Hills is at its best, going for the dancey indie-beat. The following track, “Nightingale Lightening”, keeps the pace up with a Spoon-like intensity and ringing cymbals, while Walsh sings of remembering the things that matter.
However, the band never returns to the full, driving beat of the opening tracks, the rest of the album instead relies on introspection. Walsh focuses on his own mortality with all the brown blaze of a bourbon glass at last call. On “Hungry Ghost Extraordinaire”, the band pulls out cellos and malleted drums to turn down the dance, and then later on they add in a waltz beat for the Wilco-esque “Dead People’s Music”. The latter works off well-crafted waltz verses that make it worth a listen: “There’s no use pretending/This life is unending or cruel/The litany is endless/But the feelings behind it have cooled/And I could care less/About a silhouette down by the shore/We play dead people’s music/And we mistake the mirror for more.”
Variation goes a long way, and this album could have used it. Each song here has potential, but far too often they bleed into each other, and there’s less to take away by the end. Less backing instrumental filler and more drive and simplicity, as heard on the album’s opening tracks, would have made No One Knows What Happens Next a more complete piece of work. But, as the title suggests, we’ll have to wait and see where they go from here.
Essential Tracks: “Get Me in a Room”, “Nightingale Lightening”, “Dead People’s Music”