Review: The changing sounds of Molehill

Indie outfit steps into a more mature sound with new EP.

 

Hearts on Fire is the third release from Chicago-based four-piece Molehill, a band that – while relatively unknown on a national scale – has won praise around its native Midwest region for its effective combination of arena-ready melodies with electronic flourishes and dark, progressive undertones.

The three-track EP contains an all-together brighter sound than 2015’s Muse-influenced Tin Gods, with stately ballads largely taking the place of the guitar assaults of earlier offerings. While this may upset some fans, it’s also evidence of the Peter Manhart-led band’s slow maturation, after steady touring has now seen them play hundreds of shows and become regulars on the festival circuit.

Title track and opener Hearts on Fire, for example, retains the band’s usual mix of chest-thumping, theatrical vocals and call-to-arms lyrics – the song was purportedly inspired by the Ukrainian ‘Euromaidan’ protests – and buzzing, retro-sounding synth lines. Yet the track is anchored by restrained piano chords, making the entire affair more Queen and less Biffy Clyro. Elsewhere, Reverie channels Depeche Mode with its slinky, futuristic electronica and tells of the universal yet heart-wrenching grief that comes with the loss of a parent.

The stunning Old Soldier closes the all-too-brief release, and recounts the bleak, affecting tale of a retired military serviceman forced to thanklessly live out his final days in a nursing home; “he sits in a dead room, sterilizer and perfume”, Manhart sings, “and the lights are slowly growing dim.” The track starts as a minor-key lament before exploding into a wave of guitar pyrotechnics then calming down again – with the protagonist simply recalling to himself “the sweetest dream”, and leaving his plight unresolved in an effective and thought-provoking manner.

At just three tracks and barely over ten minutes long, the EP seems to finish just as its truly beginning to take flight. Not as immediately anthemic as some of Molehill’s earlier output, Hearts on Fire is nonetheless a welcome new step in the career of an exciting and underrated band.

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