BY JENNIFER KELLY
“There’s a lot of people claiming I’ve got no skin in the game,” is Ryan Walsh’s football stadium sized chorus to “Destroy this Poem,” a singalong so potent and all-hands-on-deck that you might miss the mid-career anomie at its center. The irony is that Walsh has plenty of skin in the game, in the form of four self-released, self-financed Hallelujah the Hills albums and a decade or more on the DIY indie circuit. You could probably take Have You Ever Done Something Evil as a case study in the benefits of long-term artistic autonomy, in the way it hones and builds on Walsh’s long-time strengths, while not capitulating at all to trends or “what the market wants.”
Like the three Hallelujah the Hills albums before it, Have You Ever Done Something Evil? frames New Yorker-story literary observations with powerhouse rock ‘n roll rowdiness. It is a good bit more explosive than 2012’s No One Knows What Happens Next, which seemed, really, a little bit discouraged. But this time Walsh and his crew have their wry bluster back. They tip pretty close to punk urgency in opener “We Are What We Say We Are,” with its racing pulse of a one-two beat, its frantic shouted refrains. They edge towards the muscular guitar pop of Guided By Voices in “I Stand Corrected.” Yet even in the bluff Saturday-night thunder of songs like “Do You Have Romantic Courage?” the writing is sharp enough to sting. “Life ain’t nothing but liquor in a room with fire alarms,” Walsh observes mid-way through, and yup, that’s about it.
I have a short list of bands that have always seemed like they should be better known than they are, and Hallelujah the Hills comes right at the top. This is maybe the smartest music you will ever hoist a beer to and yet full of dumb joy. If you like well-written, exuberantly played guitar rock, don’t miss this one.
DOWNLOAD: “Destroy This Poem,” “I Stand Corrected”