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High Places - High Places

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Artist: High Places

Album: High Places

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Sep. 15, 2008

In the new indie rock, instrumentation often takes the place of vocals as the point of focus. Mary Pearson and Rob Barber exemplify this trend as High Places. They’re like the Blow but inverted; in the Blow, Khaela Maricich’s cute songwriting is the point and the beats by Jona Bechtolt are pleasant and fit in well. In High Places, songwriting and singing do their best to stay out of the way of the backing track. The singing isn’t pointless - an instrumental band would be a very different band - but it’s serving a nonstandard role.

High Places’s musicianship sits at the interface between electronic and traditional modes. The songs as a whole come off as electronic, but it’s an illusion. Rather, Pearson and Barber record guitar and multitudinous strange percussion instruments, and then sequence them digitally. The drum beats are canned and samples seem to come from children’s toys or effects records rather than other songs. The effect is voluminous and frilly, like swimming through oceans of lace. The duo also seem to be emulating walks in the woods; while they aren’t necessarily sampling the voices of animals, there are many chirps and twigs crunched under foot. The music is cute in a way that is kind of played out and detracts from a more serious vein in which High Places are trying to construct digital/natural landscapes. (Think Asa-Chang and Junray.) The mixture of electronic and natural instrumentation is continued on stage, where High Places use both pre-recorded tracks and live percussion and processing to recreate their sound. Making sequenced music work live is still evolving, but they show the way of things to come.

Pearson does all of the main vocals on High Places, to best effect on "Stardust to Sentience." This is the only piece on the album with memorable words and a melody, and it’s accompanied by very interesting instrumental warbles that heighten the song. Most of the other singing is bleached out, a pale ghost of what one wishes it were. For High Places to be a really great band, they need to meld the two separate threads in their music: the urge to make songs and the urge to make sounds.

By Josie Clowney

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