Tuesday, August 29, 2017

AlhhlA - 8oNitsSidE (2017)

When I was introduced to Arizona based experimental artist AlhhlA earlier this year due to their affiliation with Yairms, one of my only real complaints about the band was that there was so little music available from them. I was sold on a single song ("Who Shall Lead") out of two possible ones on a split EP released in 2014, my obsession fueled by demos and live recorded concerts and now with singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Levi Hiller's plans to reunite with Yairms' Jerry Rogers to create/recorded new material he's seen fit to release a brand new EP he's been sitting on for some time and was only previously available as a tour-only cassette. 8oNitsSidE, AlhhlA's first release since the Yairms split three years ago finds Hiller demonstrating a wider expanse of sounds than at-home listeners would have gotten to experience.

"-_cLeArLiNes_-", the EP's opening track begins in a place of quiet dramatically different than the percussive, boisterous "Who Shall Lead" that introduced AlhhlA on the split. And yet its quietness is hardly indicative of its multitudinous layering. Hiller takes his time building its lush lilt as his own vocals combine with instrumental shuffling in a feeling akin to the sloshing of ocean waves. That wave formation informs much of the track as its swells softly build and recede in much the same way. There's also the fact that many of the effects are practically indiscernible. That's largely due to Hiller relying on different forms of recording and playback from old shareware to and old boombox and finally a tascam tape machine before being transferred to digital, "-_cLeArLiNes_-" almost seems ironically named. It's various parts a mesh of intriguing, augmented sounds as Hiller's sage-like voice cuts clear through cassette hiss. It's a move reminiscent of Son Lux: forming an interesting base rooted in intricate layering and unique sounds while letting his distinct vocals captivate and enhance the instrumental parts.

Second track "@@" however is much more familiar territory. Percussion and guitars anchor the track while Hiller's vocals function in several different ways: percussive staccato, a narrative flow, and craning ornaments. As much as Hiller experiments with timbre and effects, his voice remains his secret weapon: wispy but with enough weight behind it that its never in danger of getting overwhelmed by the myriad of other elements Hiller plays around with in his song's composition. Whether at a whisper or a shout: the timbre of Hiller's voice effortlessly informs all the other textures in AlhhlA's catalog.  Even in a track like "LoLoVe" which is a full on vibe showcase featuring a djembe, cello, and bowed saw, Hiller's vocals supersede. That's not to say that Hiller isn't capable of incredibly engaging moments outside of the sound of his own voice. "LoLoVe" expands not only Hiller's textural palette but his sound as well. A world music influence has existed at the core of most AlhhlA songs but "LoLoVe" takes it to its logical conclusion and even then with it syncopation and djembe loops Hiller doesn't rest on invoking that sound without filtering it through his own creative lens to guide not appropriate his influence. Also considering how entangled AlhhlA and Yairms at once seemed, 8oNitsSidE is an album forged in the distance between them as Hiller and Rogers took divergent paths. The EP relies on a completely different cast of collaborators (owing more to geographic distance than creative distance between Hiller and Rogers).  

8oNitsSidE is a wonderfully demonstration of just what AlhhlA have to offer and if you haven't listened to the songs on the aforementioned split, it serves as a pretty excellent introduction. The EP is varied but grounded in a consistent sound that is uniquely Hiller's. AlhhlA's music gets its sound from a number of aspects: the various transitions between analog tape and digital and editing, Hiller's fascination with augmenting sounds, as well as sense of creative storytelling that brings to mind bands like Le Loup or Akron/Family. Hiller crafts delightfully intricate textural meshes that he simultaneously works to shepherd you through. It's no wonder I was obsessed after one song as Hiller's songs balance an entrancing experimentalism with a subdued pop sensibility. The only thing keeping people from becoming fans of AlhhlA is time and if it takes three years between releases to get songs as good as those featured on 8oNitsSidE, I'm surely willing to wait.

AlhhlA's new EP 8oNitsSidE is out now and available for stream/purchase via his Bandcamp. All digital purchases come with three bonus tracks.

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