Hilltop Hoods – The Great Expanse (Coloured Vinyl) (2LP)
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**Limited edition green splatter**
The Hilltop Hoods are one of the hardest working groups in Australian music. It’s not something to be said lightly, but with 25 years under their collective belts, it’s a well-deserved compliment. They’ve released seven albums, plus two ‘restrung’ LPs, and are constantly playing the Australian festival circuit. With a fan base now spanning multiple generations, it would be easy for them to hang up their writing hats and release a greatest hits album. Of course, never a group to do things half-heartedly, they’ve decided to release a new album instead. The Great Expanse is thirteen tracks long, and while not all of them are going to be huge it works well as an overall album. Previous singles Leave Me Lonely and Clark Griswold are strong, as is to be expected from the tracks chosen to be singles. Out of the rest of the songs, many of the highlights are the ones that feature other artists. Exit Sign, with fellow rapper Illy and enigmatic singer Ecca Vandal, is a clear standout. It begins with an upbeat piano hook and has all the hallmarks of a Hilltop hit. It’s reminiscent of 1955, their 2016 track with Montaigne, but why change a formula that works? Fire & Grace makes good use of the young artist on everyone’s list at the moment, Ruel. The subject matter is relatively dark, discussing depression and other struggles, and the first time I heard the chorus I got chills. The minimalistic piano chords accompanying Ruel’s vocals are just enough to keep the song moving without overshadowing his talent. The current star power of Ruel will hopefully get this one into the radio spotlight where it belongs. The Great Expanse is similar to previous Hilltop albums, in that it works best listened to in order. Into The Abyss is the first full track on the album, as the eponymous opening track is an instrumental interlude. Abyss highlights the lyrical skill of the trio. It’s a soaring track with echoing drums and a sense of urgency, which is quite fitting given its name. While it’s not the best song on the album, it does a great job of setting up what’s to come. Here Without You is very radio-friendly. It’s catchy, and vocalist Nyassa shines in the choruses. At slightly over three minutes, it isn’t long enough to become boring, but it’s also far from the most creative track. On the flip side, OOFT (Ponda Babe) utilises a heavy electronic backing for a song that harks back to older Hilltop offerings. Closer H Is For… is an earworm that grows on you with time. On first listen it was a bit too slow for my liking, but now it’s in my top three tracks from the album. Sporadic drum beats and delayed drops accompany a pitched down vocalist repeating “The H is for Hilltop” throughout the chorus. It feels like the end of a journey, just as Into The Abyss felt like the beginning. While The Great Expanse probably won’t go down in history as the best Hilltop album, it’s still a very strong offering from the group. There’s many reasons why they’re considered one of the greatest acts in Australian hip-hop, but their ability to continually release high quality albums is one of them. The Hilltop Hoods may have been around for a while now, but here’s hoping they stay for a while more. - Georgia Griffiths