Jimmy Gibson

Songwriter / Filmmaker / Journalist

Hillsburn: Slipping Away (2021)

I was halfway through the second song when I came to the realization that an album like this is probably best appreciated in conjunction with the east coast itself. So will be a walking review, penned as I wander Halifax mumbling to myself. Keep this in mind.

Slipping Away is at times dynamic and sweeping, but will also quickly knock you off your feet with a tender moment of vulnerability from lead singer and front-person, Rosanna Burill. The bittersweet vocal delivery on most of the songs is elevated by inventive, often whimsical drumming from Clare Macdonald; windy, moaning synth lines and glittery, warm production. 

The album starts off with back-to-back-to-back album highlights in the form of “Die With You,” “Emma,” and “Husha.” These three tracks immediately show off the range of songs that we’re in for. From groovy apocalypse vibes to punchy synth power-pop anthems to homesick lullabies, Hillsburn is throwing everything at the wall, and so far everything is sticking.

Unfortunately, the next few tracks fall slightly short of their predecessors in my eyes. Both “Shame” and “Get High” are danceable, but they lack the emotional punch and the grit of what came before. They’re by no means bad songs, they just don’t catch my ear or give me much to digest. 

On the bright side the rest of the album is stellar, the sparse arrangements on “Pain” leading into the piano and synth interplay on “Fadeout” shows the careful planning and forethought that went into the structure of the album. “My Machine Heart” feels icy and robotic in all the right ways while “Waking Up” is the perfect party anthem for anyone who prefers Picard over Kirk (myself included). The pair of twinkly ballads “Slipping Away” and “Under the Rainbow” tie a nice bow around the whole project finishing on a twee, but not overly saccharine note. The drum fills on the back half of the title track were a huge highlight for me so it wasn’t super surprising to find out that Howard Redekopp (who worked with the New Pornographers) helmed the production side of Slipping Away.

I was enthralled and enraptured by the latest Hillsburn release. I fully recommend it if you’re looking for bittersweet indie-pop with and punch and with plenty of that unmistakeable Canadian music charm. 

Favourite Tracks: 

“Emma” started just as I hit the Halifax Common. The sun hit some nearby rhododendrons and a pinkish glow washed in, blending perfectly with the bright, sparkly synth lines in my ears. This song smells like summer. The other admirable elements of this track that immediately caught my ear were the Blondie-isms that Hillsburn lean on throughout. The classic New Wave influenced drum and synthesizer sections mixed with Burill’s slight Debbie Harry-esque growl in the chorus give the song a solid historical framework but the song still feels fully fresh and modern. If I had to pick one song from the album for an outdoor summer dance party, this is it. Hands down.

“Husha” is the obvious album standout for me. As I was walking and first listening to the record, this song came on just as I reached the top of Citadel Hill. It feels like it only could have been written in Nova Scotia, as though the moaning, buzzing synth lines were tuned to match the winds hitting the Atlantic ocean waves and as though the melody were a timeless folk tune. If you do one thing today, I highly recommend sitting on the hill with this song. Give it a shot, trust me.

“Pain”: Okay, bear with me here, but I’m fully convinced that if you took Miles Davis circa Kind of Blue and asked him to write an indie-pop song for the year 2021 you’d get “Pain.” The gorgeously simple, warped and detuned piano line provides a fantastic rhythmic and harmonic starting point upon which the band layers various atmospheric synths; subtle, deceptive percussive accents; and hushed vocal harmonies. It’s a perfect example of a song exceeding the sum of its parts. 

“My Machine Heart” sounds like new territory for the band. But it’s a welcome change. The mechanical, yet groovy drum intro, and increasingly echoed beeping make this one of the more tensely melodramatic of the bunch. It’s eerie and unsettling at times, but strikingly beautiful and personal. Sit near some water for this one. And tell someone you love them.

Rating: 8.5/10

Genre: Indie-pop, folk, synth-pop

Length: 41:23

Listen to this if you like: Of Monsters and Men, Stars, The New Pornographers

Cheers, Jimmy