“The Great Expanse” is the first new Hilltop Hoods album since “Walking Under Stars” in 2014. The Adelaide, Australia group had gone so long between albums I genuinely thought they had retired from the music scene. That would’ve been a shame since they’ve been one of the top Aussie exports for hip-hop fans since the late 20th century. The title and cover certainly reflect what I imagine in my mind’s eye when I picture Australia — a gigantic country surrounded entirely by ocean where the stars would twinkle in the night sky like a million sparkling diamonds.
To my own shame when Suffa, Pressure and DJ Debris dropped “The Great Expanse” about a year ago, the album was completely off my radar. It’s yet another reminder how the U.S. and North American rap scene can tend to drown out the sounds of other countries just by the sheer volume of noise they produce. Thankfully the Hoods have a loyal following both at home and abroad, which made this album’s first single “Leave Me Lonely” another in a long string of hits for the crew.
One of my favorite tracks here is “Exit Sign” featuring a hook by Ecca Vandal and guest bars from Illy — another of my favorite Aussie acts. It’s making me stop and reflect on the fact that we have a UK Month every year on the site but could just as easily do an “Australia Month” given the depth of talent in the country. I’ve been getting exports from there to review ever since RR launched and can’t say I’ve ever found their scene disappointing. “Clark Griswold” featuring Adrian Eagle feels like the kind of song that should be huge everywhere. It’s got the same catchy mixture of hip-hop and pop music that made Gym Class Heroes hugely successful.
If you’re looking for raw skill and breath control, “Counterweight” provides that too along with a hook you’ll be hard pressed to not sing along to. Even Marshall Mathers would have to stop and admire the technique and pay respect to the flow. Without the DJ Debris production it would just be showing off for its own sake, but with it the song is a pure jam.
I’m hard pressed for things to knock about “The Great Expanse” so perhaps I should note that after 42 minutes of music I still wanted more. That’s always a good sign when you’re reviewing albums, and definitely shows that I’ll be replaying this Hilltop Hoods release multiple times in the future. I know the strong accents will cause some to shy away from tracks like “Fire & Grace,” but I will personally argue a strong Aussie accent isn’t that different from any region’s strong accent and probably has just as much regional variation from one area of the country to another. Adelaide doesn’t necessarily sound like Sydney any more than New York City sounds like Houston. Don’t picture the whole rap scene sounding like Paul Hogan.
Give “The Great Expanse” a chance and if you weren’t already familiar with the Hilltop Hoods you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.