Music

Hilly Eye: Reasons to Live

The former Titus Andronicus guitarist sets off on her own. But does her new band's debut offer enough to keep us interested?


Hilly Eye

Reasons to Live

Label: Don Giovanni
US Release Date: 2013-01-22
UK Release Date: 2013-02-18
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Carving out a unique musical identity is harder than most musicians now seem to think. What’s even harder, though, is establishing one’s own musical identity the second time around. This is the problem facing Amy Klein, the singer/guitarist of Hilly Eye who used to play guitar and sing in Titus Andronicus. While Titus Andronicus is clearly the unrestrained artistic vision of Patrick Stickles, Klein had become popular enough to become as associated with the band’s image as her bearded bandmate. Thus, when Klein left the band in 2011, it seemed to some an attempt to shake off the image of Amy Andronicus and develop a new identity for herself. With Hilly Eye, Klein has more or less succeeded. However, while her first outing with her new band sets herself apart from her Andronicus persona, the impression given by Reasons to Live is that the band still haven’t quite figured out what they’re about.

Reasons to Live establishes itself quickly with the sludgy guitars and feedback of “Way Back When”, which derives a bit of sweetness via the vocal performances of Klein and drummer Catherine Tung. Throughout the album, Hilly Eye strive to capture the perfect mix of noise and melody, a goal that was achieved several times over throughout the 1990s. So no, Hilly Eye isn’t exactly the most innovative band going right now. Moreover, the album suffers from a case of poor mixing; too often, Klein and Tung’s vocals are buried at the bottom of the mix, giving more of an emphasis on feedback and overdrive. When Klein does rise above the din, as on “Jersey City”, it’s usually for a Kathleen Hanna-esque speak-sing moment that strives to be provocative but ends up far short. That particular song especially grates, with Klein’s repeated chant of “You think you’re so cool / You have an appetite for destruction” growing more unbearable each time it’s repeated.

Despite all of these things, Reasons to Live isn’t necessarily bad. A handful of tracks (“Amnesia”, “Louisville”) reveal solid melodies underneath the primal distortion, recalling some of the best moments that Kim Gordon contributed to Sonic Youth. Still, nothing really stands out or comes close to making a truly lasting impression, even on repeated listens. Everything on Reasons to Live feels like a demo, and not because of the lo-fi production quality; the songs here appear to be in a nebulous state, as if we’re hearing a rarities compilation full of outtakes for the real album. What was probably intended to be “simple” ends up being simplistic, and even the best ideas that Hilly Eye come up with only leave the listener wanting something more.

The half-formed state of Reasons to Live stands in stark contrast to the persona Klein has developed for herself online. For someone who appears to have an assured, focused viewpoint in her essays, she seems directionless when it comes to her music. Her lyrics strive to be meaningful and universal, but they end up sounding more generic than anything else. Coming from an artist as singular as Klein, Reasons to Live fails in one very frustrating way: it sounds like the kind of record that anyone could have made.

4

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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