CD Reviews: J. Riley Hill and a Compilation With a Really Long Title

J. Riley Hill

For some stretch of time, J. Riley Hill recorded and released an album every week. Alas, this reckless streak of productivity left him feeling creatively drained and somewhat embarrassed, and what he recorded in no way reflects his live performances. Lacking material fit for touring, for promoting, and for his pride, Mr. Hill selected eleven songs that stuck out from his previous releases, spent one year working out the snags, and another year recording. The result is this wonderful self-titled album.

Mr. Hill takes DIY to the highest level possible: all the music, recording, mixing, mastering, and artwork (at which, I confess, I have spent several hours staring) is done by Mr. Hill himself. The music is brilliantly unpredictable in both structure and content. The mood is never clear and, at times, borders on the absurd. One cannot help but wonder at such lines as “the world is a stick of dynamite” or “take off your skin and jump in the fire”. At other times, he giggles. He has the Prince-like ability to do practically anything and everything with his voice, and, although some of his many influences may be apparent, he is unconfined by genre restraints. The final sound does not sound like anything else. From the big band-like introduction of the opening track “Alone”, to the album’s psychedelic-dance single “Fio”, to the highly electronic “Glass Bear”, the listener will find themselves in an entirely different world altogether.  There are no weak songs, but a few that play on repeat in my head are “Member School”, “The World”, and “Mountains and Birds”. J. Riley Hill and his band, the Bipolar Bears, recently completed a cross-Canada tour to promote the album, and were in Brandon about a month ago. You can listen to the whole album free right here:

Black Clothing, Anarchist Literature, Flags, Flag-Making Materials, Cell Phones, Address Books, and Hard Drives. [see, we told you]

The majority of us have some, if not most, of these items, and we feel quite safe having them in our possession without fearing the FBI barging into our homes and confiscating all of the above. We probably do not fear the scheduling of a subpoena to a grand jury which would result in our arrest, because we would have nothing to say at said subpoena, and therefore no reason to worry. This is the absurd story of Matthew Duran, Leah Plante, and Katherine Olejnik, who are alleged to have been involved in an act of vandalism in Seattle on May 1st, 2012. No evidence, other than the items confiscated and the prevailing historical generalization that anarchists are a violent bunch, has, to this date, been presented to give the indication that those arrested were involved at all. They seem to have been arrested for their political views. Ms. Plante has since been released and replaced by Matthew Pfeiffer using the same method.

What does this have to do with music?  All funds raised from this massive 26-track compilation are to be donated in support of the political prisoners. Each song is by a different artist, resulting in rich diversity and inconsistent production. The album attempts to clump like artists together, and this applies at least to the first few songs. Tracks one through seven, are more raw and aggressive, and are perhaps not for those with sensitive ears. Number eight, the devious chamber music styling of Disemballerina, welcomes the listener to a more somber and menacing selection, which gives way to pleasant folk, electronic, avant-garde, hip hop, and experimental rock in subsequent tracks. Perhaps you may find some other genres, impossible to categorize. But it is to be expected, as this is an anarchist compilation, and the individualism of anarchists is certainly represented. Listen to the whole thing for free here:

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 17, January 15, 2013.