Album Review – Hustle & Drone: Holyland

The landscape of Top 40 radio has changed over the years. The genres that once populated the indie scene and college radio can now be found on your town’s most popular FM station. With that changing of the guard comes the ubiquity of a certain sound, and for better or worse the sound you like will be attributed to a lot of bands. That’s what makes Holyland by Hustle & Drone so hard to talk about. On the one hand it is a good album on its own, on the other it is very derivative, and doesn’t quite stack up to its counterparts. How much you’ll like it will truly depend on how much you like artists who make the same music.

The title track “Holyland” opens the album, and it is a slow burn of sorts. Heavy bass drum followed by slow synth and high register vocals. We get drawn in by all of the elements at play. One thing you can say about Holyland is that it is exceptionally well-produced. Similar to acts like Matt & Kim or Twenty-One Pilots, the production is simple yet high quality. Which actually brings up the major issue with Holyland; it’s a party album that keeps turning the music down.

The vocals by front man Ryan Neighbors (formerly of Portugal the Man) are hit or miss, and usually on the songs where he’s more subdued. On “Kiddo” he sings “I want to be a part of it. Be alive,” but he’s barely emoting or registering with the boom of the drums. His voice doesn’t fully match the emotion of his surroundings. Whereas, on “Holdin’ On To It” he matches the tone perfectly. The voice and the instruments work in perfect harmony. This is also true for lead single “The Glow,” with its booming bass, great synth lines and infectious melody, Holyland picks up in energy and enjoyment.

Hustle & Drone have crafted a solid album for their first shot out, but Holyland suffers from an identity crisis. Each of the 12 tracks has a section that could easily be used as a party starter or even a song to get the crowd going at a NBA game, but the songs never fully go for the gusto. If someone were to go in using just “Glow” or even Neighbors’ former work with PTM, they would be slightly disappointed. While it dips its toes into the EDM pool, the final result is one that is neither full dance nor minimalist indie pop. Holyland is pseudo-experimental with booms and piano that never commits to a side, leaving us with something good that could have been great.

Originally published (09/14/2014)


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