On her early albums, especially the long out-of-print “Path of a Body”, Vancouver-based Veda Hille showed herself to be a most definite unique voice in a highly fertile singer/songwriter movement, with deeply personal lyrics and simply arranged yet exceptionally skilled playing. After her first masterpiece album, Hille stripped her sound down further but rediscovered the long-forgotten, tuned-in-fifths tenor guitar (half a decade before Neko Case) on her second and third full-length albums, at the same time gaining exposure on the then-thriving scenes of female singer/songwriters.
However, then tendencies to copy the worst of more familiar artists like Alanis Morrisette, Tori Amos and Fiona Apple was always latent in Hille, and, along with a tendency to move towards overtly “conceptual” themes, sucked dry the power of her music in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
By the time of 2005’s “Return of the Kildeer”, the masterful Veda Hille of the middle 1990s was something unknown, and “Return of the Kildeer” is testimony to this. Recorded with the aid of XTC’s Andy Partridge, “Return of the Kildeer” was a concept album that, like the earlier “Field Study” aimed to look in detail at the life of animals in the Arctic, in this case the plover known by its voice as the “kildeer”, from its arrival to its departure for hotter climes.
The problem with “Return of the Kildeer” is that Hille never succeeds in putting enough drive or emotion into her songs to make them memorable. Most of the album is sparsely arranged piano and acoustic tenor guitar at a stately tempo that is never played in a manner that can express emotion or even give a tune. Such songs as “My Disappointment”, “Bad Heart”, “Goodnight Kildeer” and the silly “Planck’s Length” are totally tuneless compared to “All Fur” or “Clumbsy”, whilst “Where Am I From?” sounds like an incomplete tribal piece even though its vocal is sincere. “Every Morning” is the one song here that approaches any sort of melody, but even it lacks the power of Hille’s best 1990s work, instead descending to overproduction.
Veda Hille might have gained some further kudos and profile from “Return of the Kildeer”, but the fact that her output has slowed so much since does suggest dissatisfaction mirrored in the music inside, which does nothing to show what a talent she was.