Amy Klein used to play guitar in the version of Titus Andronicus that toured for The Monitor, and that’s all I will say about that. That’s all I will say about that because what Amy Klein and Catherine Tung have produced as Hilly Eye deserves to stand on its own. On their debut album, Reasons to Live, the self-described “psychedelic noise-pop band” have given us an early contender for album of the year.
Opener “Way Back When,” like much of the album, features Klein’s droning guitar loops, Tung’s tight drumming, and the duo’s combined vocals with Klein taking the lead. And like the rest of the album, “Way Back When” isn’t always straightforward lyrically; but it has its moments of directness, like when Klein ends the lyrics “I don’t need your mercy she said” and “I don’t need your curses she said” with an emphatic “and she meant it.” “Way Back When” moves seamlessly into “Jersey City,” which takes the soft-loud-soft approach, climaxing with Klein sneering, “You think you’re so calm? / You got an appetite for destruction.”
When Klein sings “Glory, Oh Gloria!” on “Amnesia” I can’t help but think of punk godmother Patti Smith. Album centerpiece (for me, anyway) “Animal” channels Sleater-Kinney and contains the great couplet “All the boys who get beaten up / All the girls who get beaten down” only to switch around the genders later in the song. The poppiness of the opening riff to “Double Dutch” gives way to a wall of noise as the duo sings, “I can see what you are. / I can see all the marks / that your arms left on me.”
Reasons to Live isn’t all defiance, though. Love song “January” contains the sweetest guitar riff on the record along with hopes for a life together: “And can it be that we would know / morning mirrors, evening trains, / headlights in the snow?”
The meaning of the individual songs on Reasons to Live isn’t always crystal clear, but the beautiful noise along with some moments of lyrical clarity are more than enough to get the point across. The last bit of the description on Hilly Eye’s Facebook page says, “We play loud!” And, all analysis aside, the album works best if you just put on a pair of headphones, lie back, and let it all wash over you like a flood.
Reasons to Live is out now on New Jersey’s Don Giovanni Records.