Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm not quite finished with you

Will Tyler Hilton ever release his second major label studio album? Heaven knows I'm probably the only person who's never seen One Tree Hill to still be interested. Since 2004's The Tracks of Tyler Hilton, Tyler seems to have gone from EP to EP with a constantly dangled promise of The Storms We Share, said next album, always just out of our reach. I can't say I blame him or his record label--given the difficulty the young-guy-with-guitar model is having finding traction on top forty radio, the amount of time invested in this album seems unlikely to be compensated with mainstream success; digital EPS are a way of periodically making a guaranteed small amount from fans without having to spend much money on promotion.

That's a shame, though, because The Storms We Share contains some road trip-ready pop-rock songs. It may forsake the dance beats currently dominating the charts and may shy away from arena-ready blistering guitar solos, but it doesn't lack for energy. Albums like these run a risk of getting bogged down in introspective ballads, but the opening salvo of "Sunset Blvd.", "So Young," and "This World Will Turn Your Way" quickly assures listeners that Tyler is just as capable of writing soaring uptempo songs as he is slow songs about love and broken hearts. "16th Summer" ups the ante one more, with the hardest guitar sound we're probably going to get from Tyler. Even there, though, the licks are bookends to a big strummy chorus more concerned with a singalong melody than keeping the rocker vibe of the song going. That's no complaint, though; Tyler is best when giving himself over to gentle pop-rock hooks he's so good at making.

Most of the slower moments share those same strong hooks, though how they reframe them varies from the fuller, lusher sound of "Someday" to the sparser "Say It Like A Lie." There's nothing all the way to either end of the spectrum, though--The Storms We Share is never totally stripped back nor heavy on obvious studio work but instead opts for a "produced organic" sound somewhere in between. "I Believe In You" does a good job of showing off the benefits of that approach, with rushing waves of music eventually hushing for one of my favorite studio tricks for pop-rock groups: a two-thirds point emotional climax where a quiet repeated phrase is met with and overlapped by the singer also singing a second melody on top (see also: McFly's "Falling In Love").

09 Ain't A Thing by poppostergirl

Perhaps my favorite song, though, is the unassuming but excellent "Ain't A Thing," co-written with Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum. Mid-tempo, it finds Tyler assuring an ex "you ain't a thing without me" through a quietly, irresistibly catchy chorus. As confident as Tyler's boasts are, though, there are enough hints that he was on the receiving end of the break-up to prevent the song from coming across as overly brash--instead, it's either the strutting break-up anthem we all wish we could honestly sing or a crushed heart putting on a brave show, depending on the listener's emotional state at the time. If you listen closely, there are signs of "Ain't A Thing"'s country heritage, but a twangless delivery from Tyler positions "Ain't A Thing" solidly in pop-rock territory.

It feels like damning with slight praise to say that The Storms We Share is the best mainstream pure pop-rock album I've heard in several years; the competition hasn't exactly been fierce. Still, if there isn't room for songs this strong sung by the rare man who has just enough grit in his voice to give them weight and not so much as to be abrasive, then something is truly wrong with America's current musical climate.

Tyler Hilton's album The Storms We Share is not yet available, but in the meantime, you can buy his most recent EPs on iTunes internationally here. The Ladies and Gentlemen EP, for example, contains four of the songs on the version of the album I heard: "Sunset Blvd.", "I Believe In You," "This World Will Turn Your Way," and "Keep On."

(On a totally personal, frivolous note, I'd like to dedicate a sentence to how much I love "Kiss On" from The Tracks of Tyler Hilton: A WHOLE HECK OF A LOT.)


Tom Q Public said...

I LOVED this post! I too have been waiting impatiently for Tyler's next album for years. I bought his "Beachwood" EP but haven't (yet) bothered with his others ... I still prefer CDs, plus I get a little annoyed with EPs -- mostly it's a "dammit, I wan't a full album!" thing more than for any other reason. I know ... it sounds silly, and makes me seem like a relic from "the analog age".

Are the delays the fault of the label dragging their heels, or Tyler not being ready? If the former, he ought to defect to an indie label ... Rykodisc and New West are ones I've become fans of lately, and I think he'd fit right in on either.


Poster Girl said...

Ah, thanks, Tom! I don't expect there will be much interest in a post that strays this far from the pure pop radar, so I'm glad someone appreciated it :) No, I know what you mean about preferring CDs--I was just sorting through my collection the other day and feeling wistful about all the albums I didn't have physical copies of.

I'm no expert, but I imagine it's a little of both. There'd probably be a claim from his people about it being him not being ready and that no one at the label expects this to be a smash commercial hit and I believe that to some degree--didn't he go through a phase where he was feeling kind of uninspired or disillusioned, not sure where to go next? Plus, when you're as prodigious a writer as he is, there's probably a constant temptation to switch up the tracklisting. Still, I'm inclined to believe that an album that was supposedly ready so long ago being delayed has at least a little something to do with the label--if they'd heard a big hit (and, once again, I'm not sure that's the type of artist he is and a label that's been with him so long probably expects that to some degree but still hopes for the best), I think we'd have had it by now.

Damian said...

Hm, never heard about this artist but I guess this is the song that's gonna sneak to my player and to stuck there for really long. Such sort of American radio-pop (simple and warm guitar pop with far roots somewhere in country genre) that we've almost lost completely on international stage and I realize that I've been missing it.

Poster Girl said...

Damian, I'm glad to hear that! I can never quite figure out the best concise way to describe this sort of music (pop-rock that's a little folky, a little country, but not overly in those directions), but you've done so right there....I may borrow that at some point ;)

He's not massively known even in the U.S., at least not in a chart-busting way, but he has maybe a little more profile than similar acts due to some acting work he did.