Tyler Hilton

Forget the Storm

Written by: CM on 10/04/2012 00:08:18

Of all the artists I follow, Tyler Hilton probably comes with the weirdest claims to fame. In addition to a minor taste success with his single "When it Comes" back in 2004 or so, the California native singer/songwriter has made a name for himself in popular culture based on his recurring guest role in the teen soap-opera "One Tree Hill" (which apparently just wrapped up a marathon nine-season run last week), for a brief cameo as Elvis in last decade's Johnny Cash biopic, "Walk the Line," and for his appearance in the music video for Taylor Swift's "Teardrops on My Guitar." While those might not sound like the most promising credentials on paper, Hilton is a strong songwriter with a knack for infectious hooks and heartfelt lyrics, and his latest, entitled "Forget the Storm" (a title referring to his ongoing struggles with the major label system), is one of the best albums I've heard all year.

Hilton broke onto the scene in 2004, with the release of his sophomore album "The Tracks Of...," a solid collection of mostly-acoustic pop songs that fit somewhere between Howie Day and John Mayer. It's an album I've always enjoyed, but not one I've ever loved, and as a result, not one I've revisited a lot over the years. Over the course of the last decade though, Hilton, thanks mostly to his role on "One Tree Hill," tended to pop up and disappear every once in awhile, and I found myself increasingly interested in hearing another record from him. Quality singles saw the light of day every few years (including the gorgeous "You'll Ask For Me," a flawless piece of road-trip balladry that gets a nice, if somewhat unnecessary makeover here), but a full album follow up to "The Tracks Of..." never saw the light of day, and sometime around 2008, I was beginning to wonder if Hilton had hung up his guitar. Thankfully, he hadn't: 2009 and 2010 saw the release of a pair of EPs, and now, eight years down the line from the first time I heard him, Hilton finally drops his third full length.

While Hilton's trademarks are still here (his slightly raspy vocals, a penchant for earnest lyrics, and a talent for writing sweepingly melodic hooks), "Forget the Storm" displays both a growth of personal maturity and songwriting prowess. Where "The Tracks Of..." was a hit-or-miss collection that fluctuated between pop gems and youthful clichés, "Forget the Storm" finds more sanctuary in classic singer/songwriter records and blues and soul singles, circa 1970. The result is a dynamic set of radio friendly songs that could be equally well suited for raucous live shows or pensive television soundtracks, and it's truly a joy to explore. It doesn't hurt that Hilton kicks off "Forget the Storm" with "Kicking my Heels," a ridiculously catchy, well sung track that ranks immediately as his best song to date. The chorus demands a sing-along, Hilton's soulful delivery, a commendation, and the rousing electric guitar solo that gives the song its climax, a sold-out club to resound through. It's one of a handful of songs on the record where Hilton, clearly a natural-born balladeer and pop artist, manages to sound edgy without trying too hard. The fate is similar for songs like the bluesy lead-off single "Loaded Gun," which gives Hilton a chance to show off his frontman charisma, and his band, another fine display, or the southern-rock tinged "Ain't No Fooling Me," both placed at perfect points amongst the album's more top-40 driven efforts.

But when Hilton does play to his pop sensibilities, the result is only a tad less compelling. Take "Prince of Nothing Charming," a harmless piece of radio fluff that will function well as a single, but works even better in context, or "Jenny," another rather innocuous chorus-driven number that is good enough to not come across as filler material. The unapologetic pop sheen of many of Hilton's songs may turn some listeners off, as will the potentially maudlin textures of songs like "Can't Stop Now" or "Leave Him," but Hilton's delivery very often makes up for any clichés he chooses to indulge in. "Leave Him," a gorgeous bit of Elton John-meets-Jon McLaughlin piano balladry, is actually a perfect example of this, since Hilton's vocal delivery turns what could have been a derivative love song into a highlight. Similarly, the pop-country tinged "I Belong" is an exquisitely well written pop song that will very likely make its way onto my summer soundtrack, despite using lines and ideas that could have sounded tired in lesser hands. We've all heard it before: young love, sweeping declarations, big chorus, etc. But "I Belong" is the kind of pop song that takes you right back to the moments of your life where you felt that way: moments where you felt lighter than air, completely alive, and (quite possibly) immortal, and that's something that will always keep me coming back.

We all look to music for different things: for inspiration, for refuge, for musicianship, for lyrics that will make us think, or for a million other reasons that I don't have room to list, and all of those are very admirable qualities to strive for. But sometimes, all you need is a great pop song, a big chorus, and a committed performer to, in the blink of an eye, make you feel great, and Hilton has those in spades with "Forget the Storm." It will be too mainstream for some, but for a guy like me, with a romantic mentality and a weakness for a killer hook, this record is just about perfect. Calling back immediately to my favorite pop singer/songwriter albums of last year (Matt Nathanson's "Modern Love" and Mat Kearney's "Young Love"), "Forget the Storm" is a optimistic life-soundtrack waiting to happen, and with summer just around the corner, that's exactly what I need right now. Welcome back, Tyler. Here's hoping you stick around this time.

Download: "Kicking My Heels," "You'll Ask For Me," "I Belong"
For The Fans Of: Matt Nathanson, John Mayer, Jon McLaughlin, Elton John
Listen: facebook.com

Release Date 03.04.2012
Hooptie Tune Records

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