You can say this about High Places’ Mary Pearson and Rob Barber: They haven’t made the same album twice. In the beginning, the duo’s 7”s consisted mostly of homemade percussion and instrumentation. On last year’s High Places vs. Mankind, they upgraded to more traditional programming and sequencing, skewing more toward indie rock than anything they had done before. Original Colors represents another degree of separation from those early singles. Musically, Barber and Pearson continue to use sound loops and Pearson’s soprano voice to construct melodies, but there’s much more emphasis on the low end in these songs. Washes of sound are set off against a strong beat. And while the music isn’t exactly pitched at nightclubs, it would probably work at loft parties.
This heavy bass sound isn’t the only development on Original Colors. Pearson’s vocals, which previously felt buried in the mix, are given ample space. “Banksia” best demonstrates how those two elements come together. A pair of Barber’s drum patches trade beats while Pearson sings about swimming and drifting away. On earlier albums, it’s exactly the kind of song where High Places might have sounded dreamy and ethereal. Now, everything about the song feels anchored.
Everything but the lyrics, that is. Pearson still draws inspiration in transition. On the album’s opener, “Year Off,” she sings about “brackish water is swirling around in the basin I left in the yard” and finding herself “back on the shores of the Indian Ocean.” Later on, there’s the literal journeying during “Dry Lake” and the travel imagery of “Sonora.”
If there’s a flaw on Original Colors, it’s that these 10 songs are so closely related — in tempo, vocals and instrumentation — that they’re enjoyable enough on their own but become an undifferentiated blob when played back-to-front. High Places began by putting out singles, so it may simply be that the LP is not the best format for their work. But in the hopes you do make it through to the end, they save their best song for last. The bright “Altos Lugares” caps the record with Pearson’s vocals floating up to a higher register. In that respect, true to the transitory nature of Pearson’s lyrics, Original Colors begins by the ocean and ends high in the mountains.