Hilltop Distillery
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Hilltop Distillery

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


BY MIKE BREEN

Experimental Northern Kentucky-based trio Hilltop Distillery have released their second full-length, ... Died In the Woods, on their own State Bird Records. The band formed in 1998 and features Joe Burns, Andy Perkins and Joe Thompson, who operate the Commonwealth Audio studios in Florence, Ky.

On the largely-instrumental Died, the band shows an inventive, winding aesthetic that is artful and hypnotic, meshing together creative rhythms and gloriously intertwined guitars. Using a guitar/bass/drum base (with other juicy additives thrown in throughout), the band creates fluid, textural compositions that sound tailor-made for movie soundtracks. The fluttering guitar riff and creeping crawl of "Ky. Suite," the moaning string sounds and plunking music box feel of "The Need to Stand Straight," the manic, ominous mayhem of "8 Ohm," and the jerking, angular outburst of "1st of the Month," each craftily arranged and skillfully pulled off, are vivid and visceral, conjuring different moods and emotions with each track. Streaming free-form yet seemingly carefully developed, Hilltop Distillery's aural concoctions are refreshingly free of pretense and contrivance.

- City Beat


Instrumental music is not easy to create. Many audiences aren't willing to get over the fact that rock music without vocals can't be good. As superficial and unfair as that may be, it's the reality, and thus a band like Hilltop Distillery may not receive the attention they certainly deserve. It's complete bullshit, I mean REALLY, but that's the way it works.
And for that reason I want to let you all know that this band, though primarily instrumental, is not one of those other, bland instrumental rock bands. Oh, no. With warped, angular chords and frustrated guitar gouges, HD know what they're doing, and do it dang well. And ...Died in the Woods is the perfect example of what they can do. Right from the oddly warped starter, "Host of a Chance," the album's off to a great start. Boasting bizarre, almost discordant guitar chords, it puts you into a bizarre world of intergalactic moodiness. "Mach Studder" continues this trend, introducing unintelligible static-drenched voice transmissions into the mix (very GYBE!-esque, y'know?), and "Ky. Suite" keeps it going as well.

"1st of the Month," meanwhile, sees a more energetic side of the album. With angular, crunchy guitar sounds, swift drumming, and frantic vocals, it brings to mind a sax-less Sweep The Leg Johnny. "8 Ohm" shares this mood, except with a more jagged, dark feeling to it that really gets a nice atmosphere going. "To the Damn!", the album's final track (excluding a brief hidden song), is an engaging nine-minute finale that will leave you breathless. Starting off with a blast and then moving into a haunting drum-and-guitar assembly line, it works best in the dark, where it plummets you into a creepy musical netherworld of fear and brain-numbing hallucination. The sound is intense, the track gradually plodding along, building up to a crashing, apocalyptic climax that will send you flying through the window. It's the album's best track by far, and is worth the price of admission alone.

All things considered, ...Died in the Woods is the perfect introduction to this Kentucky experimental rock band. While definitely not for everyone, those who think a more experimental version of Sweep The Leg Johnny would be appealing will find a lot to like here. Even for just the last track, this is an album I urge you to check out.

Matt Shimmer

- Indieville


"If the whole album is like this, it'll be interesting, but I don't know if I'll like it," I said after listening to the repetitive measure that opens "Host of a Chance".
"I'd like it if it didn't make me want to kill myself," said the girl beside me.

That, in a nutshell, is the quandary of ...Died in the Woods, and it has nothing to do with the music being depressing. Far from it. It's such a complex, jazzlike exploration of sound, it's hard for it to assume traditional "happy" or "unhappy" characteristics. That's the rub.

Hilltop Distillery work the same jagged, crunchy-yet-clean, Clutch-gone-sour approach to music as Moreland Audio -- the kind where you gape at their ability to bend broken and disjointed notes into a thing of beauty and silently wonder what would happen if they actually connected the dots and made a fucking rock record. It takes a while to realize that thinking in those smaller, comparative terms actually does a disservice to this album and take ... Died in the Woods at face value, as a challenging, occasionally abrasive and ultimately brilliant album that requires more than one listen to reveal its underlying genius.

First of all, these guys are skilled musicians. You'd have to be, to make such out-of-tune and uncharacteristically timed songs hold together at all, much less work as well as they do. The deconstruction of rock music that began right around the time Nirvana made bad sounds palatable has escalated to a new level, where Hilltop Distillery and their cohorts can further dissect the anatomy of a meter, a note, a sound, and put the pieces back together Frankenstein-style, then stand back and marvel as it totters into being, eventually taking on a life of its own.

Second, the music Hilltop Distillery produces is distinctly original, and it's hard to say that these days. They use standard instruments in non-standard ways, utilizing all sorts of production techniques as well as honest-to-god inventive playing to achieve some impressive results. If "limits are possibilities", as I recently read somewhere, then Hilltop Distillery not only understand the limits of musical structure incredibly well, but they've learned how to push, bend and warp those limits without ever breaking them and producing something lifeless or unlistenable. "Ky. Suite", for example, not only never seems to get going, it never seems to end. It has at least three "almost fading-out" points, where it seems Hilltop Distillery are breaking down before the big send-off. It never happens. They diddle around, maybe tune their instruments, then come back for another round. When they finally do stop, amid a cacophony, it's actually unexpected. Likewise, the unsettling quasi-ballad "Knew Pretty" and the ominous creep of "Falls into a Water Well" adopt so many guises during their relatively short runtimes that they cease to be "about" anything and instead form their own identities. Closer "To the Damn!" is a musical thesis of quietly astronomical proportions.

The only drawback I sensed, beyond the inherent lack of momentum one gets as a trade-off when taking such care to craft music as Hilltop Distillery does, was the unnecessary addition of vocals on some tracks. With those vocals buried under distortion, their effect is mostly jarring and seems gratuitous in some cases. I can see where a vocal presence is needed amid the otherwise trancelike instrumentals, and maybe an attempt to actually sing lyrics might have polluted the purist, non-commercial intent. It just seems as though they might have been handled with more aplomb than the existing howls, growls and whispers.

Suffice it to say that there are so many twists, turns and surprises in every track on ...Died in the Woods that I am unable to adequately report them all or comment on them. Every time I listen, I hear sixty new flourishes I never noticed before. You might truly be able to hear this album half a dozen times or more and never fully appreciate or comprehend it. Subverting the music, subverting the listeners -- I should be thankful for this, rather than comparing it to cookie-cutter rock. After a few listens, I was.



-- Justin Kownacki - Splendid Zine


Drugs are a popular way to enhance the experience of watching a movie or listening to music. Whether it makes these things more tolerable, or opens new doors to their meanings is up to you. There are, however, an increasing amount of media that have been able to partially mimic the effects of these substances (Requiem For A Dream being one example). Bands, especially, have been constantly upping the ante and pushing the envelope of sonic experimentation.

Just across Ohio’s southern border and into the bluegrass 'n moonshine of Kentucky you’ll find a group of musicians who consider experimentation a way of life. For nearly five years Hilltop Distillery has been hovering in and around the KY-OH area, grouping ill-timed complimentary sounds together as easily as you would select your favorite TV station. I first met Hilltop Distillery a couple years ago when they were performing as part of the Altered Statesman (backing Daytonian Steve Poulton).

Andy Perkins and Joe Thompson both play the strings and are able to orchestrate a blend of unique notes back and forth into a crumbled phase of euphoria. Joe Burns hits the skins in a hurried state of panic, like he has some undying need to multi-task. I was already impressed when I saw Hilltop Distillery as part of the Altered Statesman, but once they had a chance to really do their own thing, they tripped me out.

With absolutely no need for vocals, the mostly instrumental ...died in the woods opens with the "Host of a Chance." The cryptic guitar notes are sure to leave you rapt. Accompanied by Matt Anderson on upright bass, “The Need to Stand Up Straight” couples the briskness of the night hours with the welcome sustenance of lush xylophone. Also contributing to the album is Doug Whitaker on “Falls Into a Water Well.” “1st of the Month” is one of the big thrashers -- you’d swear they're in the studio juggling knives or something.

Always tossing and turning, always making you pay attention, Hilltop Distillery takes free-form off-kilter music and runs with it, making perfect sense and almost embarrassing all of the straightforward rock being made.
- Sponic Zine


Hilltop Distillery
...died in the woods

by Ezra Waller

Sonic experimentation, post-rock grooves, high art. You get it all from Hilltop Distillery's new CD …died in the woods. The question is, can you handle it? While the disc does a great job exploring the deep end of the rock pool, it leaves a lot of open space that doesn't always give the listener a life preserver to grasp. There are more than a couple moments of genius on this disc; in fact every song is peppered with them. But without any linear songwriting to anchor the forays, it occasionally sounds more like background noise at an art opening than a cohesive work.

For starters, the disc is vocal-free, save some unintelligible hollering and distorted speech here and there. Layers of guitar sustain and tremolo, simple but powerful drum kit, and generous spatterings of unidentifiable noise are the building blocks of Hilltop Distillery's sound. Some of the parts work together well, approaching the majesty of Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii. In other places, dissonance and spiraling free-form are the main themes. Further recalling the heydays of prog and experimental rock, songs like "Mach. Studder" and "1st of the Month" echo the boisterous instrumental breaks of Genesis or Yes.

There is as much variety as you can handle, from the Ornette Coleman inspired free-jazz of "Ky. Suite" to the raw morphing power of “Host of a chance" and "1st of the Month." The latter have a distinct Trans-Am sound, with heavily reverbed drums blanketed with whining and bleeding guitars over repetitive hooks that build a solid wall of rawk. Most of the compositions have non-traditional arrangement and some seemingly random dropped or added beats. Furthering the intended disorientation is ever-present string bending that throws you off the scent of any melody your mind might invent while listening.

A lot of the appeal of this flavor of non-objective music is that, like a Jackson Pollock painting, it appears disorganized, but it has been well thought out and rehearsed. This and the ability to improvise are clearly strengths of the band. Also, mixing is treated as its own instrument, with sudden fluctuations in volume levels and effects on one or several instruments altering the focus of the song as much a key change or tempo shift would.

Despite the multitude of great ideas floating around on the record, some of the tracks get tedious, like the 8:35 "Knew pretty," a meditative piece right in the middle of the disc. A collection of this type of song would have its place, but among string of concise tracks, it is an aural speed bump. The closing track, "to the Damn!" actually sounds like a collage of songs which despite their individual merit are uncomfortable in close proximity.

Clearly this disc isn't for everybody, but it is undoubtedly a labor of love for members Joe Burns, Andy Perkins and Joe Thompson. You don't do this stuff to get rich quick. And one thing the disc gets right on is that it is true to itself from top to bottom. Unwavering and unapologetic, it will take you on a ride that reveals new twists and curves even after many listens. Hopefully the growing appreciation for experimental music will swell and inspire Hilltop Distillery closer to the lofty heights of their abilities.


- Cincy Music


A long time ago, bands like Slint and Rodan crawled out of the slime. Or Louisville. Whatever you want to call it. I have a feeling that if you asked anyone in 1980 where two of the most influential bands of the final two decades of the 20th century might arise, Louisville would have been way down on the list.

I don't know where Florence is, but it's in Kentucky. And these folks certainly have learned at the knee of the Slint/Rodan axis. Three guys, two of whom are named Joe, Hilltop Distillery does a nice turn on that whole noise rock fusion thing (I understand that some folks are calling this stuff "post rock." That seems a bit simplistic to me. But I digress...). Not a lot of distortion (though there is some, from time to time), and very little singing. To the point of there being no singing, actually. The three clean lines played by each of the band members meander about, but they always come together at the right moments. Put another way, some folks know how to fuck off brilliantly, and the boys of Hilltop Distillery are among them.

Think June of 44 in a noodly mode. That's how good these guys are. They don't really change the canon much, but this stuff is so well done that I can hardly complain. Just a fine set of songs for the end of the universe.

- Aiding & Abetting


Hilltop Distillery...died in the woods
Hilltop Distillery presents a sonic yet adventurous
journey into the heart of noisy yet rhythmic chaos with an
allusion of free form and tangent of lo-fi indie rock.
Using voices, drums, upright bass, keyboard, and guitars
this Kentucky threesome find themselves with a stellar
collection ofbreezy improvisational rock. If you’re in
the mood for something differentfrom the norm and about
fifty steps to the left of most instrumental
improv noise-core, then this is your album. - J-Sin

- Smother


Hilltop Distillery
…Died In The Woods
Spooky and fragmented instrumental indie rock amplified
by dissonant buzzing over a competent rhythm section.
As good as any band in thisgenre; I'm surprised this
Kentuckian trio haven't been picked up yet.
- ReadMag


Hilltop Distillery • ...Died In The Woods •
State Byrd Records • This mostly instrumental band creates
music that is engaging and hypnotizing at the same time.
They incorporate elements from math rock and jazz,
evidenced by their frequent seemingly improvised breakdowns.
The few vocals that show up are given secondary importance.(AL)

- Impact Press


Review: For the most part these instrumental jams are laid
back and relaxing. Imagine if Tortoise camped out in the
woods for a couple of weeks. The flow is often broken with
a slight choppiness. The violin in "the need to stand straight"
is very nice. The following track is rather loud which is
different from the rest of the album. Also, the changes in
tempos will keep you on your feet.
Label: State Bird Records
- Invisible Youth


Discography

Albums
1)"Commonwealth Trio" ep 2001 2)"...died in the woods" lp 2002, the 3rd release will be complete in the summer/fall of 2004.
2003 DataWasLost Records Compilation "one, two, three",
2004 DataWasLost Records Compilation "beep, click, strum, sing", 2004 Organelle compilation including bands from Tiberius Records, Save Your Servant Records, State Bird Records, & more.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Here is one of Hilltop's reviews. visit the website to read more:--"If the whole album is like this, it'll be interesting, but I don't know if I'll like it," I said after listening to the repetitive measure that opens "Host of a Chance". "I'd like it if it didn't make me want to kill myself," said the girl beside me. That, in a nutshell, is the quandary of ...Died in the Woods, and it has nothing to do with the music being depressing. Far from it. It's such a complex, jazzlike exploration of sound, it's hard for it to assume traditional "happy" or "unhappy" characteristics. That's the rub. Hilltop Distillery work the same jagged, crunchy-yet-clean, Clutch-gone-sour approach to music as Moreland Audio -- the kind where you gape at their ability to bend broken and disjointed notes into a thing of beauty and silently wonder what would happen if they actually connected the dots and made a fucking rock record. It takes a while to realize that thinking in those smaller, comparative terms actually does a disservice to this album and take ... Died in the Woods at face value, as a challenging, occasionally abrasive and ultimately brilliant album that requires more than one listen to reveal its underlying genius. First of all, these guys are skilled musicians. You'd have to be, to make such out-of-tune and uncharacteristically timed songs hold together at all, much less work as well as they do. The deconstruction of rock music that began right around the time Nirvana made bad sounds palatable has escalated to a new level, where Hilltop Distillery and their cohorts can further dissect the anatomy of a meter, a note, a sound, and put the pieces back together Frankenstein-style, then stand back and marvel as it totters into being, eventually taking on a life of its own. Second, the music Hilltop Distillery produces is distinctly original, and it's hard to say that these days. They use standard instruments in non-standard ways, utilizing all sorts of production techniques as well as honest-to-god inventive playing to achieve some impressive results. If "limits are possibilities", as I recently read somewhere, then Hilltop Distillery not only understand the limits of musical structure incredibly well, but they've learned how to push, bend and warp those limits without ever breaking them and producing something lifeless or unlistenable. "Ky. Suite", for example, not only never seems to get going, it never seems to end. It has at least three "almost fading-out" points, where it seems Hilltop Distillery are breaking down before the big send-off. It never happens. They diddle around, maybe tune their instruments, then come back for another round. When they finally do stop, amid a cacophony, it's actually unexpected. Likewise, the unsettling quasi-ballad "Knew Pretty" and the ominous creep of "Falls into a Water Well" adopt so many guises during their relatively short runtimes that they cease to be "about" anything and instead form their own identities. Closer "To the Damn!" is a musical thesis of quietly astronomical proportions. The only drawback I sensed, beyond the inherent lack of momentum one gets as a trade-off when taking such care to craft music as Hilltop Distillery does, was the unnecessary addition of vocals on some tracks. With those vocals buried under distortion, their effect is mostly jarring and seems gratuitous in some cases. I can see where a vocal presence is needed amid the otherwise trancelike instrumentals, and maybe an attempt to actually sing lyrics might have polluted the purist, non-commercial intent. It just seems as though they might have been handled with more aplomb than the existing howls, growls and whispers. Suffice it to say that there are so many twists, turns and surprises in every track on ...Died in the Woods that I am unable to adequately report them all or comment on them. Every time I listen, I hear sixty new flourishes I never noticed before. You might truly be able to hear this album half a dozen times or more and never fully appreciate or comprehend it. Subverting the music, subverting the listeners -- I should be thankful for this, rather than comparing it to cookie-cutter rock. After a few listens, I was. -- Justin Kownacki of Splendid-zine