Album review: Hill – Metaflections

Words by Grey Malkin

Hill, Brighton based Pete Piskov‘s avant-psych project, have been issuing some of the most inventive and creatively free music upon the underground since their eponymously titled debut in 2016. Several missives have followed; not least 2020’s ‘Into Outta This World’ and its sister release ‘Into This Outer World’, which saw Hill playing with both experimental, long form and more traditionally structured material. With new outing ‘Metaflections’, Piskov has returned as virtually a solo project, playing a bewildering amount of instrumentation himself including woodwind, drums, brass, guitar, and piano, as well as handling all vocal duties personally. This approach makes for even more cohesion and focus, and ‘Metaflections’ may well be Hill’s ‘magnum opus’. It certainly feels like one artist’s unique and particular vision, similar to Perry Leopold’s ‘Christian Lucifer’ or Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’. Recorded in the composer’s teenage home where his love for music first flourished, it is also a deeply personal recording, examining Piskov’s perspective and state of mind amid a series of significant time periods and intervals.

Opening with the declaration of ‘I am tuning up so that the music may begin’ a soaring, surrealistic tapestry of sounds are introduced to surround further philosophical musings on when the music does indeed begin; a Ron Geesin styled experimental introduction to an album that consistently surprises and maintains an unpredictable foundation throughout. ‘The Gift of Nature’ follows, showcasing Piskov’s virtuoso flute playing and jazz hued guitar breaks that lay down a heavily nostalgic 70’s vibe, until various sound effects and animal noises interject, along with kazoo. One imagines the inside of Syd Barrett‘s head might sound something close to this; the songs never lose their sense of melodic flair, but veer sharply away from convention or cliché, and are all the more exciting and pleasing for this. ‘Mystery and History’ is by turn more freeform, introducing triumphant trumpet bursts around Piskov’s declamatory and stream of consciousness poetry that continues to build and layer until it suddenly ceases, a short sharp shock where as a listener you stop and question what it is exactly that you have just experienced. ‘Black Cat White Cat Bird: A Portrait of Modern Society’ has a Henry Mancini hue, as pensive jazz guitar merges comfortably with both synthesiser whirls and squelches and descriptive, swooping woodwind; the soundtrack to a noir film yet to be made. Next, ‘Maddy’s Lament’ adds a gently melancholic mood, reminiscent of some French chanson, with its solitary flute cascading upon a rain soaked evening side street (one almost expects the vocals of Francoise Hardy to enter). Indeed, many of the tracks upon ‘Metaflections’ are instrumental and as such do create a filmic or cinematic mood and atmosphere, often one of bohemian, dimly lit streets where all manner of colourful or creative activity is going on behind closed doors in the cafes, bars or garret rooms.

Hill

Curiously but entertainingly, ‘Samantha’s Inferno’ directs us through a meditative muscle relaxation that then descends into freeform madness, with the sound of bicycle bells ringing, waves of shimmering guitars and Soft Machine freak outs, to a truly thrilling degree. This is Hill’s strength, to take us on major left turns that both delight and confound, but never disappoint or bore. ‘A Spiritual Crime’, driven on a tense and apprehensive Angelo Badalamenti piano line, treats us to choral vocal exclamations and a cosmic, dark dance into a ‘Twin Peaks’ imbued landscape, Pied Piper style. ‘Wisdom Tooth’ then continues down this darker, more disorientating route, via some inspired analogue synth and folk jazz guitar, along with the sound effects of someone eating and sheep bleating; a surrealist dreamscape filled with both symbolism and existential dread. ‘The World Keeps Turning’ is next, and reintroduces the lighter, almost calypso feel of the earlier songs, Piskov’s vocals both playful and hypnotic over a breezy, descending motif. Beautifully constructed (as is the album as a whole), flute scampers freely throughout the track along with an assortment of unusual percussion in a whirling, wild dance that feels half joyful, half pleasingly deranged. Properly psychedelic, this is music that is both immersive and transportive, leading us into worlds unknown that are rich with colour and suggestion. The aptly named ‘Goodbye’ ends the album with a burst of accordion, a ghostly and moodily arranged slice of chanson that leaves us on a carnivalesque note and adds to the sense of the album as being a dramatization or play of sorts, with this its theatrical conclusion. And there is a great deal of theatre and scene setting in ‘Metalflections’, each song is a character or arc with its own atmosphere, mood and intent, all contributing to a greater whole or overall narrative. Plus, with the journey ended, as with any good book or film, it is tempting here to start once again at the beginning.

This impression of an overarching narrative fits with the album concept, that of passing through and questioning different feelings or aspects of oneself through time, but in an exploratory sense and without necessarily reaching any firm conclusions or answers. Instead the questions remain, and the songs are snapshots or memories of finding oneself on this route of discovery. As Piskov himself remarks upon the album title ‘the name ‘Metaflections’ originated from a need for such a word. The album is all about looking at oneself, looking at the world around you and either trying to make sense of it or not, Metaflections is a koan, a question – not an answer. It’s a mixture of mystery and history giving a nod to the future and the past.’ The album des exactly this; it is descriptive, evocative and picturesque, a companion to our own exploratory inner and outer moments. It contains an easy lightness, as well as pensive shadows and an ability to venture into uncharted and strange waters. Moreover, it sounds very fine indeed. Why not let Hill accompany you as you take your own metaflective wander through life? You will not regret it.

Metaflections was released on the 19th August and is available to listen to here

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