New Orleans quartet Cane Hill have deviated significantly from the path that their Too Far Gone album seemed to be carving for them. Hitting the brakes and drifting sideways, the Cane Hill machine’s rumbling engine has softened and the terrain seems to be more about sightseeing than hectic thrill seeking, and more pensive than aggressive. And guess what – it’s stunning.
Personally captivated from the release of the title track alone, it seemed like Cane Hill were onto something very good that felt surprisingly organic for them despite their roaring history. Tucked in amongst their albums though was evidence of their capability to creatively bend, and with Kill The Sun Elijah Witt (vocals), Elijah James Barnett (guitar), Ryan Henriquez (bass), and Devin Clark (drums) seem to have decided to follow the creative crumbs wherever they lead in order to tell their story.
The band refer to the new music as a ‘weirder and mellower’ side that they are proud of having pursued, working in the studio with Kris Crummet. They shared “We wanted to embrace some leftover emotions we’ve been dealing with since getting our shit together while exploring our own musical limitations. We made this semi-acoustic record because we needed to for ourselves — and because honestly, why the fuck not?”
Cane Hill also worked with Drew Fulk on Kill The Sun, who they say encouraged an electronic influence on first track “86d – No Escort” and also “helped shape the rest of the EP”. Beginning to explore the EP with this track, our ears are met with a pulsing and distorted introduction. A shower of percussion and layered vocals lead to gentle acoustic guitar and a sense of wondering. Fans of music you might have heard bands like Everlast play in the late 90s would feel at ease in these sounds.
The second verse in particular draws my attention the most; sparse and echoing, it hits home with sharing an experience of disconnect and insular existence. A thumping bridge with a guitar solo and bass nudges feel like a collision with ‘electro land’ before a final chorus. With so many different elements and a light/fresh feel, it’s a somewhat dreamy/blurred/drug induced space where not much matters.
Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant knows that 86’d means that something has run out. Is this relevant with the title? Had Cane Hill 86’d themselves or their minds to the point of being vacant and uncaring?
Second track “Empty” begins as completely stripped back guitar before expanding out with stunning light vocals, effects, and flamenco-esque guitar flourishes. The chorus of this track feels really GOOD with its sense of bounce and forward movement, something more free than the contained tension that the verses carry. Within only a few listens, I found myself feeling like “Empty” was a favourite due to the many many layers of sounds and effects, how unexpectedly different it sounds, and That Chorus. For example, the ocean waves, ethereal pulses, drum machine beats, and serene vocal harmonies from the 1:06 mark. Another favourite section is the bridge with an ethereal space that guitar seems to float within.
Though I typically consume my music with focus upon the lyrics and emotions, the (unexpected) creative effort that seems to have gone into “Empty” is unreal. This is a multi-assorted flavour pack of so many different things that manage to combine into something that feels like a giant question mark as well as sounding beautiful. Whether it happens organically or not, I welcome this song and its chorus to set up camp in my brain. The vocal isolation ending is brilliant.
By way of meaning, “Empty” comes across as a disintegration of a bond, with them existing in limbo. It wouldn’t surprise me if these songs on Kill The Sun relate to the inspiration behind “Too Far Gone” where Cane Hill shared about an ‘intense romance’ with LSD, from the perspective of how it has impacted their personal lives.
“I lost you and it’s eating me alive”
Third track “Save Me” begins with a piano looping which carries an ominous vibe and a drawing into the story that’s being shared lyrically. Clean and clear instrumentally, this is a surprisingly straight-laced ballad for Cane Hill. It’s beautiful, vocally in particular, while also carrying a darkness to it, akin to watching someone/yourself in a tough place and not necessarily wanting help to find a way out of it.
The track seems to peak at the bridge with wildness courtesy of a guitar solo with thickening layers. Crushing beats and tense percussion pushes the whole experience into damaging seriousness. I could see this song relatable for a situation of seeing a loved one enduring some kind of violence or abuse, whether at their own hand or that of another. The sudden strength and grandeur of “Save Me”‘s ending just drops away to nothing, leaving me with a sense of hopelessness about the ongoing hardship.
We’ve already doted on the following song “Kill The Sun”, and have kept it on regular rotation ever since. This piece of music just feels good to be with, like a warm sunrise, despite the sense of an unsettling inner tug-of-war and self-blame. Hand clap effects somehow work really well with sharp and adventuring guitar, and a looping riff rolling onward throughout.
We’re offered up vocal warmth and a searching story of self-sabotage and the negative impact of choices made. It hits a beautiful peak when voices join in elated harmony and lift upward into something more; a potential change? I found it as thoughtful as it is pretty on the ears, and this combination of honest lyricism and instrumental tension (with a side of floating in limbo) worked really well.
Though I’d listened to the single before, I watched the music video for “Acid Rain” for the first time when I was writing this review. Putting down my headphones and saying “Whoa, that’s heavy” with an exhale, I had to explain to my partner who’d overheard me that for once I wasn’t meaning sonically. I remembered seeing somewhere on Twitter that Cane Hill had referred to Kill The Sun as being as emotionally heavy as anything they’ve written and I fully understand that now. If this is in fact about the LSD ‘rabbit hole’ (which would make perfect sense based on the title, and everything on the EP so far..), the band are going in directly in facing this period of time.
Through the video for the percussion focused song, we’re with the band as they confront their ‘habitual intentions’ with honesty and seem to present these escapes visually. The somewhat disorienting shifts from rapid movement, free falling, zoning out, while also hearing lyrics like “Sinking deeper can’t escape this hole” and the heavily altered “I’m sorry I was hard to love. It wasn’t you, it was the drugs.” – it all combines to feel like we’re existing inside something without control and both loving and hating it at the same time.
The all-immersive thunderous pulses of the chorus, vocal effects that feel like slips of time, and heightened “ahhh” vocals all add to a landscape of ‘habitual ascension’. Though the video could be seen as random and odd, I love it for this song.
Kill The Sun ends with “Smoking Man” that takes on a tale of history that led to the present. Steady guitar and scene-setting sound effects add to the platter of influences and idols and the present day experience in contrast to them. It seems to detail stumblings upon mortality and also reality – of not being an unbreakable superhero. I love the harmonies/vocal effects of the chorus and how we’re held in uncomfortable suspense with unsettling sounds after the repeated lyric fades out.
Pulling in “reality dances in my eyes” from “Too Far Gone”, “Smoking Man” defines the fact that the cage they’re locked within is self-made. Assuming this cage is formed by hallucinogenic substances, “Smoking Man” seems to capture both ‘sides’ of the experience, and maybe is a take on the band’s experiences; at first desiring (“I wanna feel it”) and then refusing (“Don’t wanna take it”).
What follows after this – a wild cacophony of sounds with no rhyme, reason, beat or sense of grounding – has to be the psychological/mental/emotional experience of withdrawal and detox after no longer wanting to be in the self-made cage. With “Smoking Man” as the final track, it really shifted for me the entire EP into seeming more like a creatively driven release than merely a collection of songs. The track brilliantly rounds out the entire ride.
Though it’s not completely blatant, Kill The Sun feels to me like a creative expression capturing the experiences, moods, sensations, fallout, and finally refusal of hallucinogens or other drugs. Coming from a place where they have already overcome this (based on what was shared with the release of Too Far Gone) explains the sense of relative calm in doing so, and more leeway in how they chose to express it.
Musically, this is great, and it never felt like Cane Hill smashed uncomfortably against any barriers of creativity. It’s definitely unique, and at times takes more of an experimental approach, but it works very well. The band seem to have wanted to paint a full picture of their experience and have used their instruments and voices as thoughtful brushes upon the canvas. Samples, effects, harmonies, and layers were skillfully used to steer the listener’s attention throughout.
There’s nothing significant that I hugely dislike about this EP, but I feel that some of the guitar-focused sections were so mellow that they could be considered uninteresting, especially those that were repeated. It’s not an attention grabbing or hectic release and so will likely require additional focus from the listener to stay with it. I look forward to many re-listens to get more familiar with these songs and hopefully get to go deeper with the many layers available.
The breadth of creative ideas across the EP was impressive. "Empty" and "Kill The Sun" are stand out tracks. Feels like a perfect length by way of the story being shared over the EP. I was impressed at the emotional weight carried within these mostly acoustic tracks.
I spent a lot of time wondering what was trying to be shared lyrically, and even now am not entirely sure if I understood it. Some of the more conversational style of lyrics had me unsure who was talking with who and when. Some of the repeated/unchanging guitar parts could potentially hit a point of being too much.