Kye Alfred Hillig, the Tacoma, Washington-based singer-songwriter has been the principle songwriter for four bands with styles ranging from punk to surfy indie to folk since the age of twelve. To date he has written over 1,000 songs and recorded over 18 albums with these bands. Since 2012 he has worked on his solo career and released three albums Aurora, Together Through It All and Real Snow.
The Buddhist has been described by Kye Alfred Hillig as a collection of songs with the singer attempting to “tear down the walls that metaphors can create”. Honesty and openness is prevalent in this collection of songs that was written in just a week and a half with the help of bandmate Daniel G. Harmann. It’s quite fitting that musically the songs are also naked with just Hillig’s passionate vocals and intricate guitar playing and occasional backing vocals from Harmann.
The album opens with the strangely titled ‘My Young Love Was As Blind As Ray Charles And Half As Cold As Heat’. It is a sign of things to come as Hillig openly talks about his previous aspirations of being “twenty-five, famous and married”. Hindsight obviously shows the naivety that he now sees as a more experienced person. ‘Come Play With Me’ tells the tragic story of bandmate Scotty who joined his band, had to leave and later committed suicide. Hillig asks for forgiveness for his actions – “Scotty please forgive me I didn’t mean to be like them. If I could do it over I would treat you better my friend”.
‘Licorice The Dog’ begins with the description of the dog of the same name biting the singer’s hand even though he believed them to be friends. Childhood memories are invoked such as the time he beat a snake with his friend for fun and the guilt he felt after doing so. There is also the wanted man who was friendly to him and his friends but was later arrested for an unknown crime. Childhood imagination runs wild – “his crime grew as we talked”. Things being not as they seem is the theme here – “we’re not the people that we think”.
‘I’m Alive Because Of Nuclear Bombs’ is a poignant song full of guilt at being alive but – ‘it’s hard to forget that I’m here because of something so wrong’. This song is a reference to the bombs dropped in Japan at the end of World War II, which arguably saved the lives of many Americans including, Hillig believes, his grandfather. This horrific trade-off of lives is treated by the songwriter in a very sensitive manner with the singer understandably struggling to celebrate his life at the expense of another.
‘Some Good Things Just Have To Die’ starts with the striking line about the singer’s grandmother having a stroke –“she pissed herself when she spoke”. There is calm acceptance in the tragic things that occur in life such as when his girlfriend Barbara cheats on him during this difficult time with his grandmother’s illness.
Hillig sings about desperation in ‘I Want To Be Forgot’. It’s during these moments that he turns to religion – “it’s the only time I talk to God”. Again there is the feeling of great regret in the album’s final track. ‘We Buried A Cop’ uses stories to reflect on the missing things we have in our lives and again focuses on the human suffering that affects all of us at various times and the feeling of doing something wrong that can be hard to deal with.
The Buddhist is the perfect accompaniment for calm, candlelit evenings on your own or for times of reflection but not necessarily one to pick you up on darker days as the pain in the singer’s voice can be a bit too much at times. The Buddhist is available for free download and there is also a crowd funding campaign to finance the release of a limited edition run of the albumon white vinyl.
Review by: Philip Soanes
Photo Credit: Scott Haydon Photography