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Hill & the Sky Heroes – 11:11 album review

Hill Kourkoutis describes the genre of Hill & the Sky Heroes’ “11:11” as “alien surf rock.” While her audience may not be clear on what that means, Kourkoutis definitely is. The album, a product of Kourkoutis’s collaborations with a stream of guest musicians, marries the musicality of ‘50s pop with quintessential science fiction sounds. The result is an upbeat, anthemic album that walks the audience through Kourkoutis’s seven-year journey of self-discovery.

Kourkoutis is undoubtedly an extremely talented musician, bringing depth and complexity to “11:11” so subtly that the audience doesn’t realize the magic she’s created until they try to produce their own and have no idea where to even start. Kourkoutis played many of the instrumental parts on the album, including guitar and piano work, but the instrument that she uses most originally and comfortably is her voice. From track to track, she transforms it. Her raspy vocals on “Love Isn’t Safe” could find a home in any sultry 1920s jazz club. On “The Better Way,” her crisp, summery voice cuts through the background instrumentation, providing a refreshing contrast to the distorted guitar and sci-fi sounds.

The musical prowess that Kourkoutis displays when manipulating her vocals makes itself less obvious in the “alien” part of “alien surf rock.” Not every track on “11:11” utilizes sci-fi sounds, which allows for a greater contrast between and spectrum of songs. It also serves to make the appearance of these effects seem even more overtly obvious and out of place. The opening track “Beam Me Up” presents the album with both a title blatantly alluding to the extraterrestrial and an introduction comprised of a spaceship taking off. In their infrequency, other similar sci-fi references—unearthly background instrumentation on “No Man’s Land” and “The Better Way,” the title of the closing track (“Starseed”)—jolts the audience back to a conscious awareness of the type of music they’re listening to. Even the use of alien sounds to convey Kourkoutis’ feelings of alienation and isolation seems too deliberately calculated.

“11:11” is a musical narrative of Kourkoutis’s journey to self-discovery. Her words are strong, her music confident. And they should be, for Kourkoutis reveals herself as a greatly talented musician and vocalist. But for as comfortable as Kourkoutis has become with herself, finding that same effortlessness with “alien surf rock” proves to be a bit more elusive.

By Natalie Howard

In a fit of teenage angst, Natalie Howard moved from Glendale, CA to New York City for college. She stuck around after graduation and currently eats and sleeps in the East Village.

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