Carl Anderson – Hillbilly Heaven – Album Review
“Well I’m not the average person.” #YaHeckinGotTHATRightSir #YesIndeed
Hopefully there’s at least one of ya out there that’s been looking forward to this new record as much as I have been – Carl Anderson is by far & away one of the most sonically interesting & all-out superhuman artists I’ve stumbled upon over the past decade. In fact, unbeknownst to good ol’ Mr. Anderson himself as a result of his…hmm…lack of internetting we’ll say…he made our top ten list of 2021 last year, and had actually no idea that had even happened until about April of THIS year. How’s that for being locked right into all of what he’s been creating dear readers, dear friends? Wait until he finds out I’ve been playing his music on the SBS Podcast, posting it up in the SBS Secret Stash Of Stellar Singles, and that I’ve genuinely never stopped spinning his last record called Missouri Breaks…it’ll blow his freakin’ MIND y’all.
I’m kidding. Not about relentlessly playing his music, all that is verifiably true, just click on those hot-links and you’ll see/hear for yourself – but as far as Carl caring about any of that, it’s extremely doubtful. I ain’t offended by it, I ain’t put off by it neither…he’s just the kind of artist that keeps his head down as he’s doin’ the work, stays focused on the world of sound he’s creating, nearly oblivious to everything else – and quite honestly, if I had the skills this guy has I’d be doing exactly the same, I promise you that.
While there’s absolutely no chance whatsoever that I’d be able to explain what it is that drives him, what it is that inspires him, or how the heck he comes up with the stuff he comes up with – what I can tell ya for a definitive fact, is that Carl’s in a league all his own. He’s clearly the kind of kid that grew up playin’ in a whole different sandbox than the rest of us normies, you following me? If you’re not, no worries…it all becomes as clear as mud from the moment you push play & try to decipher the code as you wander through this labyrinth of musical madness for yourself as “Gerald (I & II)” begins. The best way I can put it to ya would honestly be to type everything here in ALL-CAPS…I’m THAT stoked on what I’m hearing, straight off the drop as the heavy grooves & stunning crunch of Carl’s music kicks in – but am I surprised? HECK NO! Have you been reading this review? I’ve been calling out this guy’s genius level music for more than a full year since I first started listening, and if anything at all, “Gerald (I & II)” immediately confirms how freakin’ RIGHT I have been to do so. From the scattered brilliance in the vocal clips & samples he uses, to the extraordinarily gifted talent he has for composition, to the dynamic structures of his song, and the absolutely superhuman execution he applies through the skills he possesses…I’m tellin’ ya folks, I speak nothing but the truth about just how incredible Carl really is. I get it, believe me…I type out these words and I can SEE that it would SEEM hyperbolic…and all I can do is point to the history of these pages & the fact I’ve never told ya anything other than the straight-up, raw, unfiltered truth about all the music I’ve listened to, for better or worse. This guy is THAT good – and if you don’t have Carl Anderson on your own playlists as part of the soundtrack of your LIFE, you’re only doing yourselves a disservice…and believe me when I tell ya, he couldn’t care less either way. If you’re ready to ride on the bandwagon like I am, there’s plenty of room and he’ll be happy to have ya I’m sure – but if you’re not, he ain’t losin’ and ounce of sleep over it, I guarantee it. Carl’s gonna keep on being Carl regardless of whether any of us are out here listening or not, making music as genuinely astonishing as what you’ll experience straight off the drop on “Gerald (I & II).” Did I mention that he gives all this amazing music away for FREE to anyone that wants to listen as well? Carl is completely my kind of artist. Listen to the way this track evolves and slides so slyly into the next gear around the three-minute mark as the samples continue to yak at ya…listen to the audible line in the sand being drawn around fifteen seconds later as “Gerald (I & II)” kicks into the main meat of its guitar-driven grooves…and LISTEN to how cleverly this track evolves with additions like the piano around the 4:30-ish mark…it’s like nothing else I tells ya. Music like this keeps me awake and gets me outta bed in the morning – I freakin’ LOVE it!
As to how in the heck, or why, “Gerald” gets FOUR parts to his story…you’d again, have to ask the man himself…but I can promise ya, he ain’t gonna answer. Carl would likely tell ya to form your own theory, figure out whatever it is you can IF you can, and probably leave it at that as he heads on to the next chapter like this one didn’t even exist at all. And maybe it didn’t…after a healthy set of spins through Hillbilly Heaven, all sense of time & space has been warped around me…maybe I’m just chillin’ in the ol’ rubber room at this point, and these are simply the sounds flowing through my head. “Gerald (III)” deals with some pretty dark shit…I mean…all these cuts do in their own strange way…even as they are, which is generally instrumental at their core – so consider that…it’s impressive to be able to form that much of a clear picture of the malevolent vibes at work through music without dedicated singing & all that – the samples alone will clue you in to his inspirations somewhat, and that’s more than enough to fill in the gaps if you’re paying attention. Gerry probably ain’t a very good dude if you’re listening to the pieces of this story as it comes together…but he sure has a kickass soundtrack. LISTEN to the way the trumpets bring the flavor and extra character to this cut will ya? Combined with the low-end of his guitar and the killer rhythm & shimmering pulse of the music alongside the vocal samples…I mean…good lord y’all – Carl’s got such an immaculate sense of how to give a song everything it needs to pique our interest in all the right ways. Sure it’ll help if you’ve got a deviant streak in ya yourself, but overall, I can’t imagine any of you out there listening and not coming to the same conclusions that I do – this dude makes seriously compelling music and there’s just no other way to assess what ya hear. I could spin this record forever.
I’ll tell ya this much…whatever you’re listening to right now…if it ain’t THIS, then TURN IT OFF and TURN THIS UP instead – you will not be disappointed. I have NO IDEA how he’s able to do all that he does, or where this all ends up coming from…Carl’s a master of the dark arts of making music, and what’s in the sauce stays secret – but c’mon now y’all – listen to “Gerald (IV)” and tell me that’s not the best thing you’ve heard this side of the instrumental section of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” back in the heyday of the 90s, am I right? It’s got that same degree of melodic melancholy and sonic spookiness to it…like, you can FEEL a song like “Gerald (IV)” cling to your bones and the fibers of your frayed soul…and although I’ve dared to make a slight comparison here, there’s still nothing really like it. You’d have to combine the craziness & musicianship of something like an untamed Steve Vai with that haunting style of sound I’d pointed out…add in the like…I dunno…instrumentation of something rad like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra…and even then, you’d still be nowhere close to describing what it is you’re really hearing. Suffice it to say, you’re rare to experience anything that has this much depth & dimension to it, and the effect it’ll have ya will be everlasting – music like this CHANGES YOUR DNA, and makes you crave a whole lot MORE of it. And unless Carl makes another record, chances are, we’ll all be chasing the dragon from here…just like I’ve been doing ever since his last album Missouri Breaks. Dude’s like this do not come along every day…and that’s part of what makes it all so damn special – the other part is simply what you can hear with your own damn face-holes…the specialness is that apparent and abundantly clear. The violin within “Gerald (IV)” alone is award-worthy stuff, nevermind all the rest of the incredibly awesome stuff happening, and the high-level of cinematic sound he’s got workin’ for him.
The addition of the cash register sounds into “Medicine Cabinet” might be one of the most brilliant and poignant statements you’ll ever hear on the inside of what’s essentially instrumental music-meets-Spoken Word art – and if you’re not getting what’s being said here without a single word, I’m not sure that I can help illuminate the obvious any more for ya than Carl has. What’s in your “Medicine Cabinet” has been a cash cow for the government and your good ol’ friends in Big Pharma, while also likely being a wonderful playground for the mind that has kept you happily in a fog for years & years. Part of that fact is emphasized by just how far back Carl is pulling these vocal samples from…where he gets them, I have no idea – but it sounds like he’s been watching a ton of old PSA announcements from the 60s era – those old anti-drug awareness videos you see popping up in the most random of places you’d never expect. Personally, I just finished watching Dopesick for the second time within a single month – so believe me when I tell ya, this kind of subject matter is straight up my alley…not that it wouldn’t have been already based on my own history with drugs & whatnot, but it’s especially relevant right now for me based on what I’ve been consuming media-wise just as much. “There’s only one way to interpret” these facts you’ll hear…trust your good ol’ doctor Jer @ SBS…Carl Anderson prescribes the antidote to your ailments through audible awesomeness, and actually lays out the straight-up honest truth at the very same time. So as you’re groovin’ to music you could only assume is being made by someone with a heavy understanding of the psychedelic realm, you have to listen to the focus too and wonder whether or not he’s ever even touched the stuff! Or maybe it’s more like a Tool-esque scenario, whereby he’s been trippin’ the life fantastic & straight into the beyond with stuff like DMT that have taken him into a whole other universe entirely, only to return him to the world with know with a newfound set of entirely superhuman skills. I couldn’t tell ya one way or the other – I know just as much about Carl Anderson as you do, even if this is the very first time you’ve heard about him! All I can tell ya for sure is that, whether he’s on drugs or not on drugs…good gravyboat lighthouse y’all…the amount of skill and pure talent it would take to dial-in, focus, and create music as sonically brilliant as this is, would be something you’d assume could only be achieved with a healthy dose of pharmaceutical assistance. No judgments here y’all…I’m all about doing whatever it is you feel like it takes to live this life the way that you wanna…you only get one of’em as far as I know. As long as life sounds like THIS, I’m gonna keep my own “Medicine Cabinet” stocked full of eighty milligrams of this sonic awesomeness & happily overdose.
A brief moment of serenity and clarity occurs with the forty-five seconds of “Intermission” – enjoy that.
Hitting up another throwback reference to the Red Scare of the past…you’ve gotta know your history a little bit to fully absorb the details and ‘get’ something like “The Red Menace” and the two eras it comes from, post-World War I & the more well-known aspect of its timeline in what we know as McCarthyism today. That being said, it’s hard not to appreciate just how timely a cut like “The Red Menace” is right now based on the current war in the Ukraine…and even though it’s been going on for a while now, you’d have to assume that Carl’s been working on this cut longer than that & had this idea formed even earlier. I don’t know that for a fact…this guy’s so inherently gifted that maybe he COULD just rock out a two & a half-minute cut this involved, complex, and captivating within a single day – but I’d assume that he’s probably been working on this record for a while, and the timing of a track like this might have just worked out randomly in his favor. Really? Alright…maybe not…I’m thinking out loud here and you’ll just have to put up with it…COULD he have really been working on this prior to Russia’s war with Ukraine? Is that possible? I’ll readily concede that it does seem unlikely…but if it IS random, then boy oh boy did that work out eh? They say the music business is all about timing anyhow…maybe this is proof of that. All I know is this – from the intensity of the strings at the start, to the cleverness of the samples he uses, to the message contained within this cut, and the gripping sound the “The Red Menace” goes on to reveal – “you learn what you are to be alert FOR” if you’re not already familiar with that part of yourself. As to whether or not that’s the “threats” of communism or (good lord no, not) socialism – or the illusion of authenticity in the information you receive from the kind folks in the government…”know your enemy” dear readers, dear friends. “The Red Menace” is as clever & brilliant as it is entertaining, 100%.
I suppose, if anything, it’s fair to say that in comparison to his previous record Missouri Breaks, this new record leans a lot more heavily on the inclusion of its vocal samples. Personally, I’m all about it…there’s just not enough people getting this creative with the Spoken Word aspect, and even fewer that would have such an intense grip on knowing where to find the best source material to use like Carl seems to. You add in the incredible instrumentation and musicianship he brings to EVERY song you hear on his albums, and like I’ve been tellin’ ya…he creates a genuine trip & sonic journey that’ll be unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced. “A Thousand Suns” dives straight into the concepts of nuclear power, and ultimately, the massive destruction that it’s capable of. One of the things I love best about Anderson’s music is how truly straightforward it can be – we might all have our theories and find niche sub-plots on the inside of any given tune, but as crazy as it all may appear, he’s really spelling things out as plain as day if you’re paying attention. No better example of what I’m talking about than riding through the first five minutes of “A Thousand Suns” and then experiencing how it goes on to end over the final thirty seconds…if you’re missing out on the not-so-subtle message he’s put into this song at that point in time, then there really is no doubt whatsoever that you’re listening through the wrong holes of your body. I find Carl’s music endlessly fascinating…and the way he shifts from the sample-driven sounds like you’ll hear in the first three-minutes to the powerfully inspired instrumentation afterwards on a cut like “A Thousand Suns” is nothing but a pure joy to listen to. Dude’s got atomic ideas & knows exactly when to detonate the next one you’ll hear in turn, sequentially rocking his structures with relentlessly interesting sound you get entirely invested in…and when this whole world comes to the end that it’ll most assuredly reach one day as a result of our over-confidence, all I can sincerely hope for is that is somehow sounds like THIS. I’m not sure if y’all can sense my enthusiasm about Carl’s music – have I made that all clear?
At over eleven-minutes in length, “God’s Wind” is the epic finale that an album like this truly deserves – but the amount of space you’ll hear involved at the beginning WILL throw you straight for a loop, I can promise ya that. On my first initial spin through Hillbilly Heaven, I was pretty much convinced that I had a wack file, or that Carl was playing the sarcastic card, strummed his guitar one time, let the notes ring out, and was about to leave me with eleven minutes worth of silence to consider everything I’d heard afterwards…but no…eventually, there was more sound to be heard, and I’m equally grateful for it. We’re floating in the ether and the aftermath here on “God’s Wind” – post mushroom-cloud, wondering if anything we experienced, ever even existed at all – if WE ever existed at all…and it’s impossible to say one way or the other. Do androids dream of electric sheep? We’ll never really know what it is we’re in or what we’re living through until that final big bang, the black of darkness, and…whatever it is that comes NEXT. That’s of course, assuming there IS more to follow…which for some of you, is beyond belief and justifiably so. For myself personally, there IS more…I feel it in the fabric of my DNA – I just have no idea WHAT it would be. “God’s Wind” gives you those kind of Pink Floyd-esque vibes in a way – there are a couple tracks on this record that do actually…which again, is a style of expressive sounds and thoughts that certainly suits me just perfectly. I love the atmospheric depth of “God’s Wind” and the extra instrumentation it has in the saxophone added in…the spread out rhythm of the bass & drums…the layers of guitar that drift distantly on the surface…it all feels & sounds like we’ve been blasted straight into Hillbilly Heaven and the space beyond, wherever you believe that may be. LOVE the guitar he’s playin’ in the solos at the end of this record…it’s some of his flashiest instrumentation, but still added in with that low-key approach Carl is so adept at utilizing, almost like it’s an afterthought, when for most musicians, it’d be the main feature. His ideas & skills are as extraordinary as his impulse to keep them a secret from us, even as we listen to it all unfold…and this record is another slice of pure sonic genius from start to finish. Do NOT dare miss out on Hillbilly Heaven – it’s one of the best records you’re going to find this year; I knew that before I pushed play somehow…but listening to it was nice confirmation that I’m not as crazy as I like to think I am – Carl Anderson is every bit as amazing as I claim.
Get a copy of Hillbilly Heaven for yourself before the bombs go off and we’re all reduced to the atoms and particles from which we once came, for FREE at Bandcamp: https://carlanderson2.bandcamp.com
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