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Hallelujah the Hills - Collective Psychosis Begone

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Artist: Hallelujah the Hills

Album: Collective Psychosis Begone

Label: Misra

Review date: Jul. 31, 2007

Two guys from the now sadly defunct Stairs (guitarist/songwriter Ryan Walsh and drummer Eric Miller) make up the core of Hallelujah the Hills, a lo-fi but baroque indie pop outfit whose homespun mind-freakery may recall, off and on, bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and Guided By Voices, and the Chicago songwriter Devin Davis (who, fittingly enough, headlined the band’s very first show in Boston). Stairs won notoriety for recording its first full-length on a grant from the Dedham (MA) Visionary Access Program and, under the terms of the funding, incorporated the voices and instruments of half the surrounding town. Collective Psychosis operates under no such constraint, but it has the same kind of overstuffed, everybody-let’s-put-on-a-show exuberance. As an album, it is charming, disarming and heart-warming, if not exactly polished – full of fragmentary lyrics and unstoppable choruses, everything submerged under a thick layer of fuzz.

The disc doesn’t seem to be a concept album, though it has a wonderful start-to-finish arc to it that makes it easy to listen to all at once. It starts with the slow, dirge of “Sleeper Agent (Just Waking Up),” with distant, ritual tom toms and syrupy thick swaths of strings. At the verse, it sounds a bit like Summerteeth era Wilco. Still, it builds from there into a measured, rather sweeping sing-along chorus, whose lyrics (“let’s all plug in...to the telepathic disco”) fade in and out of linearity like a folk song in a fun house mirror.

Things get even weirder – and more fun – when the band decides to crank the volume a little. “Wave Backwards to Massachusetts” starts with a single repeated guitar note and the WTF line, “A blizzard...a mallard...a stillborn chinese baby speaking backwards,” before launching into that gleeful, fuzzy, whimsical sort of groove that made Bee Thousand so much fun. There’s a jaunty little trumpet line woven in, and another chorus in unison. It’s like eating ice cream – how can you complain? The band-checking “Hallelujah the Hills” runs a little faster and harder, with group-shouted “heys” and “I was born in Belmont/Hallelujah the hills” punctuating string-embellished, pop swaggering melodies.

Like Akron/Family, Hallelujah the Hills excels at incorporating samples and electronic embellishments without disturbing its organic feel. A child reading a poem, a throat clearing, a voice altering microphone treatment, all these things are slipped in without much explanation, but also without pretense. The whole record is beautifully odd, more than a little off even when it’s just one person with a guitar…so how could a few real world sounds make it any stranger?

The best cuts are the faster ones – “Hallelujah the Hills,” “Slow Motion Records Broken at Break Neck Speed” and particularly “It’s All Been Downhill Since the Talkies Started to Sing.” This last cut should have been the album’s ending – it starts in pop and spirals off into chaos, internally combusts and fractures into noise, the perfect summation of Collective Psychosis Begone, period, end of story. Yet there’s one more acoustic song, “To All My Scientist Colleagues I Bid You Farewell,” placed at the end, I think, because it says “goodbye.” It’s not bad at all, but it’s a coda not a finish. Better to end in frenzy than wistfulness, in the kind of all-hands, screw-production-quality joyousness that makes Hallelujah the Hills a find.

By Jennifer Kelly

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