Image Credit: Pavel Danilyuk

Cinematic Solitude: Review of ‘The Available Light’

Image Description: A microphone and sheet of music resting on the inside of a piano.

Sparkling, dizzy and energetic, yet sombre, does not even begin to fully encapsulate the recent album ‘The Available Light’ by The Hillside Project. The Hillside Project is an experimental space for composer and songwriter Josh Hill to dissect neo-classical sounds combined with cinematic and pop-adjacent freedoms, akin to the likes of Kate Bush, Ludovico Einaudi and Hans Zimmer. The recent album, released September 29th on all major platforms, reintroduces Hill’s eclectic style presented in earlier works, however ‘The Available Light’ emphasises this through newer string timbres, orchestral sonic spheres and electronic spaces.

With an unravelling beginning, ‘The Available Light’ commences with the introductory track ‘An Opening’, which investigates the album’s footing, introducing a mimicking piano that stumbles over a stark synth string bed. This quickly leads into the rising ‘The Lengths’, with its dark but hopeful sonic landscapes that seem to keep reaching for something just out of touch; this environment quickly turns into frantic piano oscillations, generating further adventure. The frantic, vigorous piano is broadened upon in the precisely named ‘Slivers and Shards’, with these forms meeting sparkling, bell-like chimes  and constant, light percussion that emphasises an ever-moving atmosphere. This is balanced out with starker, heavier chordal segments; however, the light percussion is always present, creating the thrumming tone of a motor.

The title track, ‘The Available Light’, introduces more moody, ethereal notes, initially constructinga texturally starker backdrop with just an oscillating piano and a syncopated, metronome-style glimmer. This gradually builds by adding a swooping, swan-like violin melody, reminiscent of cinematic fantasy-action video games. An intensity is reached through the sudden burst of a full string section and emphasised percussive beats, which is intercepted with abrupt, pure, mellow piano movements and block chords.

‘Dizygotic II’ references themes of a modernistic neo-classical string quartet, with abruptly paused fluttering string movements trying to reach an undecided place. Contrastingly, a sombre, mellow piano is reintroduced in ‘Sparkler Dims’, which is joined by a floating scalic violin, cello and later string and percussive section. ‘Sparkler Dims’ was initially a single release to ‘The Available Light’, becoming The Hillside Project’s most streamed piece to date – understandably so, as the air is very light, yet solemn and heavily nostalgic. A favourite part of mine from the album occurs directly after the first piano, violin and cello section that ascends into a spinning, icy up-register piano movement, later intercepted by introduced instruments. The piece builds up, introducing new instrumental layers and motifs, which eventually fizzle out to bare piano chordal shapes.

Waiting to pounce, ‘Adamantine Lustre’ begins with a clear bluish, frantic string swell, which quietly bursts into syncopated rhythms and ostinatos; the song fluctuates between agitated piano oscillations, subdued upper-register piano glimmers (accompanied by string tremolos) and sudden torrents of texturally full sonic landscapes. Although ‘Dizygotic I’ may appear to be the tonally opposite twin to ‘Dizygotic II’, the short interlude still references neo-classical elements, with the slowed and reproachful piano and violin not fully knowing where to land.

‘Dizygotic I’ serves as a tonal introduction to its proceeding track ‘Iridescence’, which has familiar moody and melancholy colours, somewhat similar to the darker film compositions of Rachel Portman. Beginning as one of the most understated tracks in ‘The Available Light’, ‘Skirmish’ slowly unravels into an album-encompassing piece, referencing previous motifs and patterns, creating waves of aggravated stillness, using quiet, constant melodic movements and built-up, tension-inducing harmonic pulls. An icy, winter landscape is envisioned through the melodic fractals spinning through piano spirals; the introduced violin adds further swirls, forming a floating cinematic atmosphere. The blizzard begins to stop, the two violins joining the same structural movement and fading into the piano. A final image is presented through monophonic chordal layering, which dies into the background.

‘A Closing’ rounds-out the album, reminiscing on the recurring melodic and rhythmic motifs that appear throughout ‘The Available Light’. Whilst combining segments of different tracks, the piece heavily references the frantic, rising movements of ‘Slivers and Shards’and alludes to the cadential patterns used to launch the album in ‘An Opening’, firmly tying all the oscillating ends together. Much like the beginning of the album, ‘A Closing’ ends with stark, firm string chordal shapes that rise to an unresolved cadence. However, unlike the stumbling, mimicked chords in ‘An Opening’, the chords of ‘A Closing’ appear more stable and secure, exposing the growth and progression of themes and instrumentation throughout the album.

Much like the colourful, dizzy collage seen in the album and single art leading up to the release, the fizzling, frantic shapes of ‘The Available Light’ blend together into oscillating, thematic forms, with sombre and subdued lyrical passages creating recognisable recurrences and cinematic settings. ‘The Available Light’ is a great project for someone looking to listen to something new, yet familiar, something which delves into various nostalgic emotions and atmospheres.