In regard to musicians, mixing together several genres often provides for a very interesting and expressive canvas. Graham Hill presents an interesting style, wrapped in oddball folk arrangements, electronic beats, and ambient loops. All can be found in his solo project, Roman Ruins. In addition to his solo work, Hill is notorious for being a skilled drummer, sitting in on drums for Brightblack Morning Light and also playing in Oakland-based alternative band The Parish. When I found out he played in The Parish, the name of the band sounded instantly familiar to me. Upon listening to their song “Mountaineer”, I knew where I recognized it from. I had actually written a feature on the band about two months ago! Now, that’s a coincidence if I’ve ever seen one, as I basically just stumbled on Hill’s solo project without any prior recognition. So, my feature on The Parish can be found here with three enjoyable MP3s. Alright, back to Mr. Hill’s project. It is quite a different experience from the alternative-psychedelic flow of The Parish, showcasing Hill’s diversity as a musician and songwriter. Hill’s work is dominated by “laptop pop” as he likes to call it, with catchy loops surrounded by snippets of guitars and percussion. Such electronic pop has become a staple of this contemporary era and Hill holds an interesting realization for the fact. Though his influences growing up were rather typical while being raised in a commune in West Virginia, his rapid movement across the United States most likely attributed to his variability as an artist, with the equation being evident in these three presentable songs. Hill’s beginnings were initiated in 2003 when he developed an interest in the four-track recorder. Upon renting one from the UC Berkeley Architecture Library, Hill found an extreme interest in crafting music, showcasing his creations to friends, family, and strangers under the initial project name of Delux. Hill appears certainly confident of his own abilities as well, calling The Parish “the best band in the Western Time Zone”. The debut for Delux (later known as Romain Ruins) came with an EP, Sensible Dinner, in 2004. The self-released collection of Hill’s early material was strong in crafting and exposing his sound to the public, though the lack of a label and promotional distribution caused little growth in sales. However, the release was enough to grab the attention of Daly City Records, who included Delux on their Baby Godzilla Compilation in 2006 with the song “Attention!”, an enjoyable mixture of hip-hop samples and instrumental string plucks.
The compilation brought proper attention to Hill, being one of the factors that helped him land a record deal with Gold Robot Records late last year. Last month marked the release of Hill’s debut single under his new alias Roman Ruins, “Releasing Me”. Personally, I’m quite impressed with Hill’s style in the single, even if it has been used a number of times before. Mixing acoustics with a variety of moogs and synths can be surprisingly effective if done right. Fortunately, Hill succeeds in his vision. While the bridge to the chorus consists of the typical “Oooh”s and percussive clapping, Hill’s bright and facile vocals fit the glove perfectly for his mixed genres and tone. While the presentation echoes a similar vision to that of The Field Mice or even a lighter Of Montreal, Hill has a grasp that is capable enough to carry his own aspirations to a point where comparisons are not particularly noteworthy. “Your House” is the b-side to the “Releasing Me” single, being much more organic than the more enjoyable single that precedes it. Still, it’s a rather enjoyable b-side that is dependent on Hill’s desperate vocal modulation and guitar instrumentation. When the synths and effective percussion loops do kick in after three minutes or so, the listener immediately recognizes Hill’s intentional build-up method, even if he may have taken too long in exposing such a weapon. The lyrical aspect is engaging as well, detailing a relationship that is slowly crumbling apart due to pure boredom. With that said, I’m a fan of “Familiar and Serene”, a track in which the electronically created setting is vital to the song’s enjoyment factor. The appearance is lush and barren, with Hill’s vocals touched with reverb and a slight fade effect over a gentle throbbing synth. “So let me down upon the ground” Hill motions a chorus with a slight change of key, repeating, “skillfully, skillfully” over the constant backing synth. The title is quite accurate, as the music depicted in the song sounds both serene and somewhat familiar. So, there you have it — a song with a vital technological development, a song dependent on natural guitar instrumentation and vocal tone, and one that mixes a bit of both. With that in mind, I’m quite curious as to see what Graham Hill has in store for us in the future.