Have you ever heard an album that just didn’t feel right at first? You liked it, but there’s just something that maybe you are missing from the experience? Something that made you wrestle? The debut album from Tilt was that way for me. One of the weirdest things about that type of album is that they often turn into addictive experiences eventually. It’s almost like an album that takes longer to jive with you is the same kind of album that sticks with you longer, too. Tilt’s debut album “Hinterland” is a great experience on the first listen, but it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth listen that it really settled.
Tilt’s debut album is actually a pretty big deal. The band includes Steve Vantsis (bass, guitar, keys, programming), Dave Stewart (drums), PJ Dourley (vocals), Paul Humphreys (guitar) and Robin Boult (guitar). Some of these guys were the band for the legendary Fish, so I guess I should have expected something new from them since Fish is retiring. Anyways, guesting on the album are John Beck of It Bites and John Mitchell of Lonely Robot and Frost*. Overall, this is quite a line-up, so I was pretty excited to hear the album.
The band describes their style as rock and electronic. What I hear on this album is progressive rock in the vein of Frost* or Porcupine Tree, meaning steely guitars mesh with atmospheric keys, bubbling bass lines, and fantastic drumming. The album does have an electronic side to it, especially on “Bloodline” and “Assembly” and “Disassembly”, but it is not the focus. Instead, atmosphere via Steve’s keys, layered instrumentals grounded by Dave’s drums and Steve’s bass, and runaway solos and awesome guitar licks from Paul and Robin are the real focus here.
I have to say that I am very impressed with PJ’s vocals. His voice is crisp and clear, and he gets very technical at times, firing off lyrics at a rapid pace or holding notes strongly. He’s one of those singers whose vocal lines seem so familiar, but you can’t quite put your finger on why that is. I hear vocal lines reminiscent of everyone from Frost* to Vex Red (a defunct alternative band) to some classic rock singer I can’t name, but I’m sure that’s all in my head. Overall, though, his voice is his own and amazingly soothing.
The music here is varied and well-constructed, giving away that these guys are veterans of music. The album begins and ends with tracks that are slower and spaced out, but tracks in between, like “Hinterland” with its amazing instrumentals near the end or the ballad “Against the Rain” and its emotional climax, are more straightforward and candy to the ears. “No Superman” is a very personal, vocally dominated track, followed by the icy “Growing Colder”, a track that feels like a bridge to “Strontium Burning” and “Bloodline”, two songs that take time to grow on you; but, when they finally find that niche in your brain, they become emblazoned on your heart.
This is The PROG Mind, right? This site was established to discuss lyrics more often than other sites do, so I feel a need to address the lyrics here. “Hinterland”, as an album, is a journey. It’s a journey with emotions that we all recognize, and so we can relate to it well. However, we all have different paths, right? The main theme behind this album is a journey through and out of religion. At the beginning, we see the protagonist worn down and weary, full of guilt and shame. Slowly, he sees the “truth” and emerges into the air of freedom and, I suppose, atheism. The final declaration is that we are alone, and that Jesus is a myth. It’s very vivid and succinct in its message.
Most of you know that I am a Christian, and you probably also know that I’m not a typical one that you see in the media. I recognize and even agree with most of the sentiments in this album. I’ve felt the same way. I’ve battled the same emotions, guilt, and fear. There is a point in the album, I believe it’s at the end of “Growing Colder”, where the transition takes place. The next track, “Strontium Burning”, evokes emotions that I know only too well, when you emerge into the air of truth and freedom (strontium reacts with air). The transition, though, only seems driven by personal feelings, and I end up disagreeing with the protagonist’s final declarations, as they ignore 3000 years of philosophy and history.
His conclusions honestly ticked me off momentarily, but then I came to appreciate the heart and meaning here. It’s difficult to find meaningful lyrics outside progressive music, and so I fully appreciate and commend the lyrics on this album. No matter if you agree with it or not, though, the lyrical content here is palpable and demands a reaction from you. That, my friends, is good writing!
“Hinterland”, then, is a debut that has meat. It’s an album that you will struggle with, all the while being totally entertained and amazed by the music and the fantastic vocals. It is a lush journey full of emotions, struggles, and grand feelings of freedom; and the melodies and choruses are catchy and very memorable. Tilt’s debut is worth every minute of your time.