Album Review: High Highs – High Highs EP

[Small Plates; 2011]

High Highs is the self-titled debut official release from the trio, hailing from Sydney but now settled in Brooklyn. Short but sweet, the four track EP is less than fifteen minutes of sumptuous electronically enhanced indie pop. Despite its brevity, this first installment from the trio immerses the listener in a fully realized dreamy atmospheric — and sometimes eerie — world.

“Open Season” invites you in with smooth waves of floaty keys and far-reaching chords. Vocalist Jack Milas fearlessly shimmies up to high notes and tucks harmonies into every nook. These waves ramp up to a full-fledged pop chorus, the kind that inevitably burrows into your brain and rests for a while. A shimmery instrumental breakdown towards the end is followed by a final trailing verse that edges into silence.

“Flowers Bloom” follows. Packed with breathy “ooohs” and “ohhhs” this track is even gentler than the first. Although the sailing is a little too smooth – the levels don’t vary much – this number is still richly stratified. With so many similar elements, it’s clear that High Highs have a definite sound. While this track fits the mold of that fluttering lush sound, it doesn’t stand out.

Ghostly and hazy “Ivy” comes third. Markedly spookier than its predecessors, this track is executed in a strained, warbling whisper. Electronic pieces softly echo in back layers building an unsettlingly sweet foundation. Unlike the last, “Ivy” shows off the range that High Highs are capable of achieving within their niche.

Appropriately, the guitar-heavy final track, “Horses,” is lullaby-like. The first line, “By and by, white horses go” immediately calls to mind a dream sequence or a counting sheep-like ritual. Vigorously strummed acoustic chords build frenetic energy under a soothing vocal overlay. Calmly repeated lines of lyrics throughout put the album to rest.

From sweeping hooks to haunting harmonies, the High Highs debut is a gentle seesaw between poppy and dreamy to eerie and floating, rarely leaving the listener out in the ether.