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High Places

Original Colors

[Thrill Jockey; 2011]

By ; October 21, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

I can still recall the first time I heard High Places. It was on my way to Pitchfork Festival in 2008, and I had a few MP3s from their then-forthcoming album High Places. I was immediately intrigued by the band’s organic sound, comprised of endless amounts of instruments and some of the most amazing song structure I had ever heard. It took a certain kind of concentration and diligence to understand what each track fully meant, but that strange barrier to entry was what engulfed me in the record. But 2011 marks a new era in sound for the Brooklyn duo, as Original Colors is a huge departure from the band’s earlier sound.

It’s obvious from the first note on the album – a distorted, blown-out bass line – that Original Colors isn’t about crazy xylophone hooks, but instead focuses its attention on electronic shoegaze. The album doesn’t deserve to get hung up on its predecessors though, as High Places embrace and nearly perfect their new dark and bellowing style. The spontaneity that made their previous albums so enjoyable is still here, especially on the closing track “Altos Lugares” or “Morning Ritual.” Both tracks feature that awkwardly-paced melody which High Places have become known for, a trick that would make even Michael Jackson dance like Elaine Benes. But the more experimental tracks are also the most short-lived, a disappointment considering those moments are the most exciting on the album.

The problem with Original Colors is that so much of the rest of the album, save for a few short songs, is completely monotonous and repetitive. It’s one thing to have a theme for an album and stick to it, but it’s another to basically rip off the best track and seize to innovate from that point. The album’s highlight is the opening track, and first single for the release, “Year Off.” When I first heard the single earlier this year I was excited for the album, and although it was obvious that High Places were going different places with their sound, “Year Off” captured a style that I was eager to hear more of; a mix of haunting female vocals and purely electronic production. Lead singer Mary Pearson’s vocals are the perfect complement to the member Rob Barber’s dystopian, imaginative landscape; a duo that make total sense together. And not to keep harping on the same point, but the two had such creative energy on previous outputs, that it’s rather surprising High Places couldn’t get past the sound on “Year Off.”

The entire album plays like a sad dream, soundtracked by Barber’s lo-fi-influenced electro nightmares. Huge bass, corrupted by a few arrant synthesizers and drum beats, makes for a hypnotic pattern throughout the album, making Original Colors completely consumable in one sitting. There’s consistency in what High Places have done, and in some cases they do it magnificently, but all too often those moments are sparse and short lived. Ultimately, the album’s a victim of a band trying out a new sound, losing themselves in one or two ideas, and never recapturing the spontaneity or energy of previous efforts.


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