Hillvalley - Salutations
Record Label: None
Release Date: June 2009
Does anyone know what pop music really qualifies as these days? Everything from Justin Timberlake all the way to Thursday gets put in this broad category. Being so varied also has given “pop” a bad name. Pop music originally was much more specific and some acts are trying to put it back in the good graces it deserves. On their debut album Salutations, Jacksonville's Hillvalley is doing just that.
Salutations makes me think that if Billy Joe Armstrong could have completely washed himself of his well known name, then his side project Foxboro Hot Tubs would have sounded much closer to Hillvalley. Unlike ol’ Billy, the masterminds behind Salutations have successfully shed their original skins. Brought to us all from Ryan Pepaolo (Matchbook Romance) and Chris Miller (The Summer Obsession) is an album that brings us back to classic pop. Unlike what the past works of these two were made of, there are neither emo-laden whines nor punk speed beats found on this album.
I actually found it difficult to describe this band at first. I wanted to say more than just "Hillvalley is a modern version of The Beatles’ sound." While that could sum it up, the fact is the review would just be too short. I therefore looked at what other bands the album makes me think of. I do hear pieces of today’s better indie-pop such as Look Mexico and Band Marino, but with a more mainstream delivery that does not let this fully qualify as indie, and that is something of which I find to be good. Often I feel that a band must carry something almost gimmicky to be “indie” and Hillvalley seems more concerned with straightforward, well-written music. I even find myself coming close to saying this is a pop-rock version of The Avett Brothers due to strong folk/Americana influence. In the end though, this album is still very much a turn back towards pop in true originality.
Part of what gives this classic feel is the vocal delivery and use of harmony. Oohs and vocal hums accompanied with a smooth lead instantly bring bands like the aforementioned Beatles, and before their reign to mind.
Kicking the album off is “Still Motion”, with good pop hooks and a driving chorus. Something about the opening beat makes me want to sing Acceptance’s “Breathless”. The second track has more of a folk feel and offers a theme of hope in straight forward lyrics: “life’s not that hard, we just like to think it is.” Everything is not always happy-go-lucky however, even in pop music as Depaolo sings about love gone bad in the catchy upbeat “Baby Blue”, which almost tricks you into thinking it is a happy love song until you realize it is more a vengeful theme of getting back at an old lover. “Here It Comes” throws a wrench in the machine as it jumps to early 2000 underground, sounding like something that could fit on The Juliana Theory’s Emotion Is Dead. Altogether, the tracks contain a lot simple folk lyrics with simple and at times dark musical tones. Love, hope and sadness all find a home in Hillvalley. Tracks like “Sweet Dreams” let musicianship shine with some great guitar work.
When all is said and done Hillvalley’s debut album Salutations is a gem of simple pop with some folk/Americana trained in the ways of The Beatles. Does that sound good? If not, well then, try it anyway because it may just cause a change of opinion.