Knox Hamilton is a name that’s been floating around for a couple of years now. In 2015, the band—an indie pop group from Little Rock, Arkansas—released an EP titled How’s Your Mind, which garnered interest from Alt Nation as well as several magazines and blogs. Now Knox Hamilton is back with The Heights, its first full-length album. Considering that the band will also be touring with Colony House and playing a festival alongside Young the Giant and The Head and the Heart this year, it’s sure to gain some more exposure in the coming months.
According to Billboard, Knox Hamilton’s influences include Foster the People, Coldplay, The Killers, and Keane. These are all wonderful bands to seek inspiration in, and on its debut, Knox Hamilton has indeed emulated some of their best elements—for example, Mark Foster’s lighthearted vocal delivery and The Killers’ use of synths. Nevertheless, The Heights isn’t quite the next Torches or Hot Fuss. The album seems to prefer simplicity to experimentation, never venturing into particularly unfamiliar or uncomfortable territory. The lyrical audacity of “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” is not present here; nor will you encounter any ambient song intros or six-minute epics. What you will find, however, is a collection of considerably catchy indie pop songs, which is sometimes all you need to make the sun shine brighter on a long drive or provide the soundtrack for a laid-back afternoon.
Many of the songs on The Heights are saturated with energy. Some prime examples are three of the album’s previously released songs, “Washed Up Together,” “Work It Out,” and “Set It on Fire.” With its punchy chorus, falsetto vocals, and groovy guitars, “Washed Up Together” could easily be heard on an alternative radio station. Although its lyrics veer towards banality, its pleasant vibe lingers in your mind, making it one of the album’s highlights. “Work It Out” has a similar feel. It’s one of the most fast-paced tracks, and it’s easy to imagine it playing in the background during a movie montage. “Set It on Fire” is even better. Its celebratory retro sound is a bit reminiscent of The 1975, so alternative music fans are sure to love it. Most definitely, it’ll get crowds moving in concert venues.
Other strong points on the album include the moments when Knox Hamilton dares to dive into the darker side of human interaction (read: heartbreak). “Call Me Up” is one of these moments. Instrumentally, you can really see the Killers inspiration coming through here, with wonderful results. Due to its stellar bassline, bold percussion and guitars, and memorable melodies, the song is likely to make you want to hit the replay button. “Barely Missed You,” which begins with the instantly gripping lyric “I barely missed you at all last night” and continues to a falsetto chorus studded with glittering electronic flourishes, is another fantastic track. If you only listen to one song on this album, listen to this one. Poignant and far from formulaic, it shows a side of Knox Hamilton that would be a blessing to see more of on future albums.
If The Heights has a major weakness, it’s redundancy. Virtually song on the album uses extensive repetition—a device that occasionally seems anthemic, but sometimes comes across as irksome. Take “Rightfully So,” in which simple phrases like “I got to get up” are echoed again and again. Although the song’s instrumentation and vocals glow, its recycled lyrics detract from its enjoyability. Additionally, even the album’s best tracks rely on a few too many cliches. If Knox Hamilton takes more lyrical risks on its next release, it’ll be doing its exuberant sound justice.
With all things considered, The Heights is a promising debut. Surely, some of its jams will get your head bobbing, especially if you’re a fan of upbeat indie pop. It’ll be exciting to see what Knox Hamilton does with its talent in the future—especially if it begins to think more outside the box.