The Great Expanse marks Aussie hip-hop trio, Hilltop Hoods’ eighth album and the 5 year wait since their last effort has been worth it. With a diverse group of guest artist appearances the albums name is correctly dubbed. Following their 2014 LP, Walking Under Stars, the Hoods’ circumvent any sign of slowing down anytime soon. The album is easily recognisable with Hoods’ iconic sound whilst continuing to evolve in depth of lyricism and meaning.
Hilltop Hoods, rappers Pressure and Suffa with DJ Debris — despite a fair time under the spotlight in the Australian hip hop scene, continue to surprise listeners young and old. The Great Expanse, striking and bathed in confidence, is an album that rightfully delivers and satisfies by living up to the group’s reputable talent. After collectively being 25 years in the music biz while maintaining popular status quo, Hilltop Hoods have generated a fanbase with such a diverse demographic. By achieving new, always-evolving sounds, Hoods’ have seemed to have moved past their original ‘90s rap sound to adopt new experimental musical capacity, supported by guest musicians. The Great Expanse marks the groups widest and largest featured Australian artists on any album to date.
The surprise comeback tracks such as Clark Griswold and Leave Me Lonely, in which are strong singles, gave an insight of what is to come later on for the group in relation to a new LP. Don’t let the upbeat facade fool you, Hoods’ The Great Expanse delves deep sentimentally and takes dramatic turns. Unexpected, but powerful nonetheless. The best way to listen to the album is in order, much like past albums from Hilltop Hood’s. The first track following an eerie instrumental interlude is the euphoric, Into the Abyss. Abyss encapsulates the skill and lyrical ability of the group while being accompanied by uplifting vocalisation, this track is given atmosphere and depth. It is clear and made known through the flow of this track that the album has only begun, a great and enjoyable taste of what is is to come to say the least.
Don't let the upbeat facade fool you, Hood's The Great Expanse delves deep sentimentally and takes dramatic turns. Unexpected, but powerful nonetheless.
Bang, it hits you straight in the face, a large and notorious bass riff. Sampled from The Sonics' - Have Love Will Travel, Leave Me Lonely is undeniably catchy, a real signature trait that has been carried through many Hilltop Hoods popular tracks. The trio have managed to create, yet another, upbeat groove, similar to past single, Cosby Sweater in 2014. Having only been released in late November, and still achieving a #24 placement in Triple J’s Hottest 100, Leave Me Lonely proves to be the album’s most popular and outstanding track from the album so far.
The first half of The Great Expanse has quite an upbeat feel to it to begin with, zoning in on light subjects. A clear example of this is the quirkiness of the track OOFT (Ponda Baba), in which the title tributes an obscure original Star Wars character for the sake of rhyming. Providing lyrical flair and sharp wordplay, overall the track is satisfyingly executed.
Destined to be a smash-hit, Exit Sign features past friend and familiar artist Illy, who has been known to feature on the tracks by the group in the past, as well as a feature from Melbourne artist, Ecca Vandal. Having said this, Exit Sign is a track that’s draws from past Hoods’ music by using signature flair and bravado, a real ingredient that is used to the trios success. MCs Suffa and Pressure can be celebrated for their verses but as well as their inclusion of vocals to accompany Exit Sign, which really does mould the track into what is is.
Fire & Grace touches on a relatively dark subject covering struggles with mental illness, specifically in the age of digitalisation and social media. What stands out about this track is the creative use of young musician, Ruel. The vocals provided in this song are backed up by subtle yet melodic pianist chords, which steered clear of undermining his harmony and soulful precision during the chorus.
As the album progresses, the lyricism makes it clear that the group is maturing and suffer from problems associated with middle age. Counterweight for instance, sheds light on the problem with maintaining balance between music business with family life. The finale to the LP, H is for... really concludes The Great Expanse as a whole. With the drum thumps in the foreground of the track, as well as vocals, H is for... will need a few listens to really get the full effect. This track could either be an opening act or closing encore with its volume it brings to the table.
The Great Expanse is an enjoyable listen from start to finish, Hilltop Hoods aren’t yet to lose their momentum at this rate. The groups strive and successful ability to release quality music for so long shouldn’t go unnoticed, but rather celebrated. Signs of innovation and evolution in their sound foreshadows what’s yet to come with their career. 4/5