The old adage goes that when one door closes, another opens. That is exactly the case of what happened with Hillsburn and its delegation of tasks when their primary songwriter Paul Aarantzen opted to step amicably away from being a primary member of the band. With the release of their latest record Stories, you can hear a band that is thriving in their new configuration. While for many, the loss of the primary songwriter would be a death knell, the opportunity allowed Clayton Burrill to take up the songwriting mantle. Not only has Clayton taken up the songwriter title, but Rosanna has traded in her violin for the bass, and Clare has taken on additional vocal duties. Jackson is still manning the keys but has also incorporated a growing pedal collection, which has expanded his (and the band’s) sonic palate.
For those adverse to change, there is nothing to fret about here. You can hear that the Hillsburn we all know and love is still front and centre, albeit in an evolved state. The opening track “Truths You Outrun” feels like a parting of the clouds, allowing the sun to shine brightly through. That warmth and energy that lead vocalist Rosanna Burrill has brought to the table in the past is still evident here on the opening track. The paradoxical “Room Across the Hall” follows, and its peppy-upbeat tempo belies the message that is contained within. A wishful, wistful recounting of a relationship that sounds like a dire health crisis, the way in which the early phrasing of the line “I know I’d find you dancing your head off. Like you’re never going to stop.” is twisted into “I’ll always see you dancing your head off, singing ‘turn that music up!’” is a brilliant piece of songwriting. Coupled with the abrupt end of the track, it’s an emotional gut punch.
Like many of the band’s live performances, Stories is an upbeat, danceable album, even with some of the lyrical content subverting the tempos presented. Then you reach the closing track “Roslyn”, the emotional climax of this fantastic EP. It’s a sparse, airy number, giving plenty of room for Clayton’s delicate piano work, and welcoming back Rosanna’s violin. It’s a track that sounds like a heartbroken parent’s plea to their child (“I’m not trying to be a red-eyed remedy, I’m not trying to change you now”). It’s a heart-wrenching end to Hillburn’s latest effort.
Personally, from the moment I pressed play on Stories, it sounded like a return to form. It took me back to seeing the band that very first time, and how the range and dynamics of Rosanna’s voice wowed me then and continue to wow here. Pairing that with Clayton’s penchant for writing songs that resonate with a listener down to their emotional cores, proves that there are no bounds to where Hillsburn can go now.