Kye Alfred Hillig
Great Falls Memorial Interchange, 2016
Review by Kent Manthie
A new year, new things to deal with, lots of resolutions made, lots of them already broken, new careers in new towns, sweater vests and dressing gowns. AND – it’s time for the next round of brand new indie music from all sorts of up-and-comers, old-timers, in-betweeners and even those obnoxious pre-teeners.
Well, today we focus in on Kye Alfred Hillig and his new album, Great Falls Memorial Interchange, which, in itself, is an interesting title. It’s evocative, to me, anyway of a drive through a kind of un-urban wilderness; maybe something you read on a sign while driving on an interstate, during a road trip to some far-off place.
Anyway, to get to the heart of things, Tacoma, Washington’s Kye Alfred Hillig is quite the versatile songsmith. His music has ranged, over the years, from punk, as a youngster, to surf-rock or possibly that surf-punk sound that is so catchy and had some great generators, one of the best I can think of is Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, but, of course, The Mermen are a great surf-y band too, although they tend more toward psychedelic-surf. Getting back to Kye, though, throughout his musical career, he’s gone from simpler stuff to more complex, poetic indie and into a sort of neo-folk-country-sheen. He started with his first band back at the ripe young age of 12. Over the years Hillig’s put out somewhere north of 20 albums.
For the past…well, coming up on 4 years (since 2012), Kye’s been going it solo. Last year saw the release of his well-received album, The Buddhist and, as of February 26 (2016), his newest album, Great Falls Memorial Interchange hits the streets. On Great Falls Hillig takes a sort of rural, scenic drive through the byways of in-between America; that is, the parts of the US that aren’t on the West or the East Coasts. In other words, Great Falls Memorial Interchange has a country feel to it that, for all its sincerity and lack of irony, still doesn’t come off as badly as the kind of stuff one hears at any given time, on one of those “new country” radio stations! Yes, when it comes to country (or “Country-Western”/”Country and Western”?) music, I have a slight affinity for the country music of an earlier time (but not too far back); singers like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings (somewhat), Buck Owens, George Jones and even a little bit of Willie Nelson isn’t that bad. But, after some point- I guess you could call it a “comeback” or maybe even (fittingly?) a revival(?) in the 90s, with the likes of Garth Brooks, LeAnn Rimes, Alan Jackson and so on, that was a bad deal. I do admit I took a small liking to Dwight Yoakam, I don’t know if it was his appearance in a few films or his countrified cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me”, but something about the guy made him likable and I just couldn’t help thinking he was an all right guy. As far as Kye Hillig goes, though, it’s hard to say – he doesn’t have that swagger of Johnny Cash, but nobody else did either.
As far as the songs on Great Falls go, there are some easy marks for country: the opener, “Always Leaving Early Deb Lake Tahoe”, the second one, “The Church Street Saint Leads the Marching Band for Truth”, “Almighty God Flaccid River of Sorrow” and “To Be Good”. Those would not be out of place on your average country music radio station, hell, they’d probably be better than most of the other stuff on them. One cut, “In Tandem” had more of a ring of folk to it; a soft, acoustic ballad which had a nice coffee shop vibe to it. Then there is “Whitney Houston”, which, believe it or not, is a paean to the dead pop star. One good, captivating line, around the :45 mark, caught me, a heartfelt shout out to an idol who’s gone away: “You went to the bathtub like a grave/And your poor daughter did the same”, a reference not to just the way Whitney was found when she died, but the fact that just a few years later, her 19-20 year old daughter, Bobbi Kristina died after clinging to life in a coma for some weeks. Even if you’re not one who liked Houston’s pop princess patina, Kye’s song is nevertheless a beautiful ode to this golden-voiced choirgirl-turned-pop-diva. One other song which I found quite beautiful was “Ancient Burial Ground”, a soft, quieted down tune which doesn’t have all the country trappings of the majority of Great Falls. “Ancient Burial Ground” is a slow, somewhat haunting melody that comes off as a kind of musical beacon for one, metaphorically, lost in a dark forest.
I don’t know if this is quite the thing that would be a hit with those who are really into most of the other bands reviewed here, but given the fact that Hillig’s an indie guy who’s been around a while and can do a wide variety of stuff, I’m giving the guy a break and saying “try it out”, expand your horizons a bit. -KM.