Review Summary: Adelaide-based trio returns with a markedly-improved effort all-around, with biting social commentary and heaping piles of black humor.
As it turns into nervous energy, anticipation can really screw with you. From simple pleasures (ordering my favorite meal at my favorite restaurant) to more life-altering experiences (preparing for my upcoming wedding day), a person can clearly run the gamut of emotions depending on his/her circumstances. Obviously, you can expect the average dude to be more reserved in the former situation than the latter, but I still get antsy whenever highly-valued artists get ready to release their newest records. I don't get discombobulated to the point where I'd forget my vows or forget to Mapquest directions to a roadtrip destination I'd been planning for months, but such giddiness does give me something to look forward to once the big day arrives.
Adelaide-based Hilltop Hoods, comprised of emcees Suffa, Pressure, and DJ Debris - reign supreme Down Under, but have been criminally ignored anywhere outside Oceania. There are all sorts of criticisms levied against the trio; most notably, that the Hoods have stellar beats but subpar emceeing that never really shows signs of improvement between records. Between the two, Pressure catches a lot more flak than Suffa, but neither is immune to detraction. There's also the fact that, despite 2006's The Hard Road
being "Re-Strung" with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, it took over three years to release something new (and a similar case can be made between The Hard Road
and 2003's The Calling
), which could feasibly confirm critics' accusations that the group is lazy and incapable of progressive ideas or creating something fresh and innovative altogether.
This is anything but the case with State of the Art
, an invigorating, refreshing listen with enormous playback value and marked improvement across the board. Hilltop Hoods have always been renowned for their use of samples and live instrumentation, and DJ Debris' picks all throughout the trio's career (from the unusual "Pornosonic Laying Pipe" featured in The Hard Road
's "Clown Prince" to "Hot Line Conversation" by Giant Crab being featured in "The Light You Burned") are flawlessly implemented and astutely executed. The bright piano in the title track, the blaring horns (such as in "Super Official"), an emphasis on drumkit-driven percussion to complement the flow and drive between the dual vocals, and the expert sampling are all fantastic. The Hoods even sample themselves (listen for "What a Great Night" in the 3:37 black comedy that is "Chris Farley"), in an almost tongue-in-cheek sort of fashion. Throughout the record, a curious sense of dark humor percolates between each track, and on a record where each track seamlessly segues between the other, it's almost fitting.
Both Suffa and Pressure have idiosyncrasies in their vernacular and dialect to differentiate between the two emcees, and while Suffa again delivers a more memorable performance on State of the Art
, Pressure is no slouch. His verses on album opener "The Return," album highlight "Chase That Feeling" ("Sometimes I feel we strive for a life of apathy / Callous deeds of the mindless acts of greed . . . / I take flight in the night from lack of sleep / 'Cause peace of mind's the only time that I'm free"), "Super Official" (where he urges the listener to "Write rhymes with your heart and do your business with your head"), and his verse with Pharoahe Monch
in "Classic Example" are some of his best offerings in his career. If there's a cut that highlights his talents even more, look no further than "Last Confession," where he writes to his son:
This will be my last confession
This industry can leave harsh impressions
I have little faith - forgive me for my past discretions
But we live and learn that history and [the] past are lessons
I'm a logical man given to science
Forgive me, I know religion inspires
But too many have government and political ties
And use state of the art warfare to bridge their divides
Assertion, aggressions, murder, then vengeance
We treat peace like it's a term of acceptance
Exception: we're not accepting if we're searching for penance
So these words are for my son so he can learn from my lessons
My biggest fear's to die not knowing you well
And I ain't afraid to die - I'm afraid of going to Hell
Similarly, Suffa's verses are typically excellent, but as is customary with Hoods solo cuts, Suffa's "Fifty in Five" is sublime and quite easily one of the best cuts heard this year. In one of the group's most scathing social commentaries to date, Suffa single-handedly runs down Australian politicians by name ("Whitlam, Keatine, Hawke had a promise of no children in poverty - wish that could have been honest") or implies their thirst for power (referring to Aussie puppets Abbot and Costello as "right-wing overlords" who threw their promises and children "overboard") is more important than establishing policy for their countrymen. What's most memorable about the cut is how Suffa encapsulates fifty years (I can't say for certain he does it in fifty measures) into a little over five minutes so seamlessly: from wars to natural disasters to advancements in science to assassinations, Suffa covers it all with such tenacity and vigor that it seems like an almost natural listen when the soft piano kicks in and he turns his introspection outward: "'Cause when we look back at what we have done, can you believe what we have become?"
While State of the Art
's black humor and almost-random pop culture references are all a collective hit-or-miss, its social commentary is almost always on-point and the instrumentation and delivery is stunning. There is a definite amount of "fun" on the record - take for instance the zombies-take-over-Adelaide "Parade of the Dead" and the off-kilter humor found in "Chris Farley" ("I wanna die in Memphis like Elvis, senseless on the toilet pissing on my own pelvis, helpless, choking on vodka and shellfish") - but the more sinister, scathing numbers are what make the record such a solid listen. As expected, DJ Debris is a workaholic, sampling nearly anything and everything (including himself), and the marked improvement heard in both Suffa and Pressure should silence their naysayers for now. That said, hopefully they don't keep us waiting until 2012.
"Fifty in Five"
"Chase That Feeling"