By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
There are wonderfully few moments of clarity in Hildur Victoria's music. Each glimpse of daylight proves fleeting, only deepening the mystery of what lies beneath the surface, between the lines. A mother runs her finger in the dirt, lamenting having used her child's name in vain; a specter hovers over a lake, its form steaming over the ice-cold water, then bursts into flames; a despairing lover, seemingly on the verge of oblivion, says wistfully, "If it's not what it's not, it is what it is."
Such moments are indicative of a band who have managed, in a short period of time and over a small body of recorded work, to establish a unique and often stunning vocabulary, one that defies easy comparison or comprehension. Yet below the layers of carefully arranged textures and reigned-in passions lurks something more visceral, which lets itself be known somewhere between singer Margaret Lane's hushed whispers and harrowing screams.
"They're all really cryptic, to the point where these boys have no idea what I'm talking about," Lane observes, referring to her lyrics, though her words could just as easily apply to Hildur Victoria's music as a whole. "It's all really connected to death and love and nature and all these abstract ideas that are really concrete in my mind, but I can conceal through my lyrics."
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Lane, who sits on a throw rug in the basement of bassist Jef Sundquist's house, runs her hand along one of the buckles on her gray, knee-high boot and begins to smirk. "But I think if you took [the songs] to any English professor they would just destroy me!" she laughs.
The band members admit that such words as "moody" and "dark" are apt descriptors for their music, but they also have little explanation for why that's the case. "We all like texture and atmosphere, and we play around with different ways to create that sort of aesthetic," Lane offers, while some ambient music drifts down from the stereo on the floor above.
Indeed, the most striking part of their music is the way that Lane's mezzo-soprano weaves between what the other band members are doing—Joe Clark's shimmering guitar tones, Jeremy Hanson's cascading drum rolls—with everyone following one another's leads in an almost subconscious manner. Hanson recognizes the prominent role the rhythm section often plays, even in establishing the melody.
"The drums should usually back up the singer," Hanson concedes, sitting cross-legged with his hands folded loosely in his lap. "But we kind of take turns in this band. If [Lane] hasn't quite gotten her melody down yet—maybe she has lyrics or an idea—sometimes she'll play off what I already have down, and then it'll flip-flop again and I'll back up whatever she's doing."
On the band's new full-length, Hildur Victoria, their increased comfort in playing with one another and their confidence in allowing each other to explore the limits of their roles results in a collection of songs that is at once more robust and more dramatic than their promising Herringbone EP, which was recorded in only three days. "We were essentially a brand new band in this configuration, and that was just sort of fast and furious," recalls Lane, reflecting on their first record. "We wanted something really live-sounding and to just get it out. This one we'd been writing for a year or so and wanted to make it really good, so all the sounds were super refined."
Considering that theirs is such an intricately sculpted sound, it's surprising that they laugh at the thought of being perfectionists. The most extreme example of this comes with the opening track on the vinyl edition, "So It Goes." After the months of work that went into perfecting the rest of the album, that tune was cut spur-of-the-moment on Sundquist's patio with Michael Lewis playing saxophone. At first glance the most out-of-place of any song present, "So It Goes" proves a remarkably useful entryway into the rest of Hildur Victoria's music. An unusually intimate and raw moment, it peels back the music's layers to its barest essence: a voice, unsteady and resigned, reaching out brazenly for words that explain little but express much—of unspeakable promises, unfathomable depths, and unmistakable beauty.