Review: High Places-High Places

30 09 2008

Fabakis is comin’ to you with a new album review. Today it’s:

High Places-High Places (2008 Thrill Jockey)

Brooklyn duo High Places (comprised of Rob Barker and Mary Pearson) have been much hyped since their formation in May 2006. On September 23 their self-titled debut album finally dropped courtesy of Thrill Jockey Records.

The first adjective I thought of when listening to High Places is “organic”. The soundscapes, though primarily synthesized, seem to blossom and grow until the samples form sort of an ecosystem. In “You In Forty Years”, the way samples are panned and layered gives the impression of birds chirping from all around you. (In fact, actual samples of animal noises are featured at the end of “Papaya Year”). The sense of being in an environment is present throughout. If I had to give the album a color, it would definitely be green, and if I had to give it a figurative location, it would be a rainforest. This sense is reinforced by Mary Pearson’s naturalistic lyrics. “The Tree With The Lights In It” actually takes place in a forest, and trees remain a motif throughout. 

This may seem to be a rather hippy-dippy assessment but the feeling isn’t trivial. For an electronic record, this organic essence is an impressive accomplishment. Without it, High Places would just be another copy-cat of Burial, or Animal Collective or Thom Yorke, or The Knife, or… you get the idea. 

Instead they opt for highly syncopated beats, usually featuring hand drums of some sort, which immediately switch the connotations from the club to Congo. The drums avoid disturbing the viscerally natural environment that the samples create as a standard four-on-the-floor or breakbeat would and, if anything, contribute to it.

Additionally, Mary Pearson’s vocals are recorded beautifully and inhabit their space perfectly. Her lyrics, initially, seem to melt in with the rest of the soundscape. It takes a little effort to extract them from their surroundings but, once out in the open, they are thoughtful and appropriately sparse. They are also somewhat oblique, opting for imagery that conjures general emotions rather than detailed story-telling. 

Overall, the album is, certainly not life-changing, but it is certainly very refreshing. Its main defect is probably that, while it creates a lush and inviting environment, it doesn’t really force the listener to investigate its details. The lyrics can easily remain melted, the album can wash by the listener and all the songs can end up sounding the same. Luckily, for those who care to investigate, the album always offers a new leaf to be turned over.

Fabakis Rating: 8.4

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