It’s inappropriate for critics to project their own shit onto a work of art. But for music fans? That’s what we do. It’s how an album can become so entangled with a specific time in your life. Certain songs get scratched into our souls, you know.
Ryan Walsh gets this. From the opening lines of the new album by Boston’s Hallelujah the Hills, Walsh acknowledges his willingness to conflate the relationship between performer and audience: “Hello, I am the singer singing this song / And if you think that might be you, well I guess you might not be wrong.” This theme is even more explicit in the title track: “I’m you / Don’t freak out / I’m you.”
That warning is not unwarranted. It can be really easy to let yourself slide into a wormhole of reading too much into something and convincing yourself that someone is singing directly to you. Do you remember the scene in Imagine where John Lennon talks to the homeless dude who is freaking out and believes that the songs were written about him? “It all fits,” the guy insists. John shoots down his theory but invites him in for tea. Don’t freak out.
That’s the key, right? We’re all interconnected but the question is, “How do you keep those banjo-murder-love songs from becoming your fate?” The overlap between the music you love and your own persona is slippery and can be scary. “We know the dangers of one person using another person as a muse,” Walsh sings. The danger is that you might no longer be able to “be sure that you’re you, I’m me, and not the other way around.”
If that sounds heavy, you’re right. It is. This is a serious album that offers a lot to think about. That’s not to suggest it’s a slog to listen to. It’s certainly not. In fact, there are quite a few lines that are laugh-out-loud funny. My favorite is: “I was first in line at the solipsistic sad guy seminar / But inside it just turned out to be another bar.” Another one that cracks me up is: “Sometimes I did drugs I found on the floor / Kept the search on point evermore.”
“Born To Blow It” employs a bunch of dad jokes (“You might think I was an astronaut the way I’ve been acting so spacey”) to address the role of privilege in self-sabotage: “I wasn’t born to blow it / I’m just my own great destroyer.”
But there are so many lines on this album that hit so close to home, it’s hard not to freak out. “I’m alone / And I can’t stop looking at my phone.” “Prepared pianos and tape loops and the rarest of b-sides have absolutely ruined my life.” “I’m fine / But I’m not okay.”
You know? What the fuck? Are you me? Am I you?
Sometimes it feels like the entire goddamn country is in the middle of an existential crisis and this is as good a soundtrack to this era as any.