Hillsburn’s latest album is a portrait of a society fraying at the seams, and it feels alarmingly familiar in the Covid era.
Recorded in Vancouver as the pandemic set in in March 2020, Slipping Away confronts the inane monotony of so much of our collective existence, the struggle to get by, and our reliance on alcohol/television/food/pills/fill-in-the-blank to provide the much needed respite that allows us to keep going. On its face, this might seem like a bleaker vision than songwriter Paul Aarntzen has previously put forward, but the characters that inhabit these songs aren’t hapless victims. They know the score. Their pain is cast not as requiem, but as prelude — there is a sense that they take stock in order to chart a new course.
Slipping Away imparts a similar clarity of vision musically. Hillsburn paired up with Grammy nominated producer Howard Redekopp (who’s worked with Tegan and Sara, Mother Mother, and The New Pornographers, among others) to make the album, drawing on his extensive experience to craft their most refined effort to date. While Slipping Away retains the energy and urgency of their earlier work, there is a new sense of restraint here — the musical contrasts are slightly more subdued, the stylistic focus a little tighter. And, despite Aarntzen leaving the band before the album’s release, the group’s identity is seemingly more defined now with front-person Rosanna Burrill singing lead on all the tracks, a noticeable shift from previous records.
There are familiar elements on Slipping Away — Aarntzen, Burrill, and brother Clayton Burrill’s boisterous gang vocals, or the hooky repeating chorus of lead single ‘Waking Up’ — but they mix with new flavours. Drummer Clare Macdonald channels The National’s Bryan Devendorf at times, Aarntzen moves from guitar to bass, and the often lo-fi vibe of Jackson Fairfax-Perry’s piano parts forms a consistent thread.