With seven albums already under their belt, you’d wonder if Hilltop Hoods still had anything left to prove. They’ve spent over 20 years at the summit of their game, and for now it seems that’s right where they’re going to stay.
The Great Expanse is the eighth album from the Aussie producers and MCs, one basked in confidence and revelry. Few artists attack their work with the openness and lack of pretension that Hilltop Hoods have, each record pulling threads from far outside the realms which hip hop purists lock themselves into. It’s why they’re such a joy to listen to.
With a legacy to their names already, Hilltop Hoods have chosen not to slow down, but to double down. The Great Expanse is them at their finest, the distilling of 20 years’ experience into 13 songs.
“You know by now what the H is for…”
The words that close The Great Expanse say more about where Hilltop Hoods currently sit then the rest of the tracklist combined. Their fanbase is amongst the most diverse in the country, from teenage fans blasting Leave Me Lonely with their mates to the dads shouting back every lyric to Nosebleed Section at their eleventh Splendour In The Grass.
By now, every Australian music fan knows what the H is for. At this point it would be easy for Hilltop Hoods to settle into the dull pleasantry that many iconic artists slip into during their twilight years; a time for reissues, nostalgia traps, and god forbid, best-of albums. That isn’t quite their style though, in fact it’s so hard to imagine in their case I felt kind of dirty writing it.
Hilltop Hood’s eighth long-player is another chartbuster, lined with tunes that’ll sweep their fanbase and the greater music landscape wall-to-wall. It’s already been seen in Clark Griswold and Leave Me Lonely, and the momentum will no doubt continue as tastemakers, consumers and radio get their hands on the rest of the tracklist.
Expected highlights are found in the feature tracks, the Hoods calling in contributions from Ecca Vandal, Timberwolf, Illy, Ruel and Nyassa this time round. Ruel’s brilliant interjections on Fire & Grace form some particularly powerful moments as the album begins to close its curtains.
Yet these songs are hardly where the talent starts and finishes. Middle-order hit OOFT (Ponda Baba) is destined to be Hilltop Hoods’ next hands-in-the-air live track, a Flume-ish, anthemic triumph that even manages a cheeky throwback to one of R.E.M.’s most iconic songs.
The Great Expanse is a fitting title, the album feeling like it crosses a physical distance between its opening and closing moments. The production is spacious, the electronic and orchestral elements in tracks like Into The Abyss or Fire & Grace sprinkling an astral texture onto an LP otherwise characterised by big hip hop beats and hyper-catchy verses.
The albums within Hilltop Hoods’ discography have always told a story; their sword-wielding cover art hero ‘Armageddon’ now a seasoned adventurer. The Calling were the Hoods’ baby steps, The Hard Road their meteoric yet onerous rise to fame. These albums show a character embroiled in hardship, and that they were.
But lately, on Drinking From The Sun, Walking Under The Stars and now The Great Expanse, the band are no longer struggling to make it. They’re basking in their hard-earned stardom, given the time and space to make music the way they’ve always wanted to.
The great expanse they speak of may refer to that feeling of artistic freedom this newer material evokes, or the blank canvas of the world they’re continuing to make their mark on. Or maybe, this is just what the world looks like when nobody else is on your level – an empty field where you reign king.
The Great Expanse is out now.