Release Date: Jan 22, 2013
Record label: Don Giovanni
When Amy Klein announced her departure from Titus Andronicus in late 2011, it came as a bit of surprise to those traveling in circles that, well, pay attention to the arrivals and departures of guitar players to and from marginally well-known indie rock bands. In those circles, and in the context of independent rock in today’s music industry, Titus is a pretty successful band. They have critical acclaim, a rabid and devoted fan base, played Jimmy Fallon and booked high-profile opening slots for bands like Okkervil River, Bright Eyes and The Pogues.
On Reasons to Live, the full-length debut by the Brooklyn punk-rock duo Hilly Eye, singer-guitarist Amy Klein repeatedly returns to images of emotional violence in her lyrics that initially seem like postcards from the edge of an especially awful and parasitic romantic coupling. But Klein, an ex-member of New Jersey rockers Titus Andronicus, tilts her hand just enough to imply that it could also be nation, rather than just a person, that’s left her feeling equal parts enraged and empathetic. Amid the scuffed-up beauty of dime-store guitars rubbing up against Catherine Tung's brutalized drum kit, Klein seethes about deception in "American Rail" with a personal sense of betrayal: "In my dreams/ I believe all the lies you told me," she sings, in a voice that sounds both confessional and accusatory.
For those who were fortunate enough to see Titus Andronicus perform prior to the release of last year's Local Business, watching Amy Klein play guitar was one of the highlights. She pogoed across the stage with boundless energy, and her violin solos were the perfect counterpoint to Patrick Stickles's gruff bark. Luckily, Klein's departure from the New Jersey band in 2011 hasn't stopped her from making music.
Should I talk about the contrast of distorted guitars and choral vocals? Should I talk about the way each song sounds like a ceremony? Should I talk about themes of exploration and obsession and communion? Should I talk about how, perhaps, Hilly Eye have claimed history for themselves? Amy Klein left Titus Andronicus in 2011, and I tried not to think about Titus Andronicus when I listened to Reasons to Live for the first time. I tried not to think about The Monitor. I tried not to think about driving an hour for a show in October.
Amy Klein was one of my favorite parts about Titus Andronicus back in the day. I can recall seeing the band back in 2011 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ, while The Monitor line-up was still intact, and being entirely blown away by the sharp contrast between her introspective, soothing violin lines and outwardly aggressive guitar-strumming. So, naturally, I had mixed feelings when she left the band later that year.
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.
It makes sense that Amy Klein and Catherine Tung met at a Lightning Bolt show. It’s not that the music they make as Hilly Eye sounds similar to or even inspired by the chaotic noise-skronk assault of Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson; it’s that they embody the same type of restless creative energy. Though both women attended Harvard and were involved in college radio there, they didn’t begin making music together until 2009 when mutual friends brought the two together.