Sunday, July 4, 2010

High Places VS Mankind - High Places (No Ripcord Review)

High Places VS Mankind

High Places
Thrill Jockey Records.

No Ripcord Rating: 7/10
SCQ Rating: 67%

Reviewing High Places’ full-length debut with any clairvoyance seemed impossible without accepting a series of inevitable paradoxes, that: (A) its craft would be commended, if not always enjoyed, (B) each song worth complimenting would be negated by a disappointing nemesis-track, and (C) ultimately High Places has to choose you… you can’t play-repeat your way over its hurdles. If there was any consolation to that 2008 review, it was the grim acknowledgement that I wasn’t alone in my indifference. Fan reception offered no easy consensus, with half the camp professing their preference for the singles collection 03/07-09/07, while the self-titled LP’s score on Metacritic showcased a careful tedium that, in most cases, shrugged that High Places deserved the benefit of the doubt.

That doubt, as I pinpointed throughout my lengthy judgment-call with High Places, boiled down to a disconnect; that for all their promising rhythms and clattering collages, the duo of Rob Barber and Mary Pearson couldn’t commit to a hook long enough to imbed emotion into what were otherwise charmingly hopeless curios. High Places VS Mankind, while likely not titled as a rebuke toward their divided fanbase, again faces the task of assembling a full-length capable of matching the high watermark set by their too-good-too-soon singles compilation.

No differently than how 03/07-09/07 supplanted some of the self-titled record’s status, how this proper sophomore settles with you will depend on what you liked about High Places in the first place. If you favoured the structured focus of songs like 'Namer' and 'Gold Coin' that tied their recess-singalongs to fractured pop hooks, High Places VS Mankind offers your kind of progression. And mine, too. Blazing through the opening gates with 'The Longest Shadow' and 'On Giving Up', High Places take their school bus of bizarre electronics clubbing, locking Pearson’s flighty vocals into deep-set grooves of live bass and guitar. When the duo isn’t streamlining its auxiliary percussion into New Wave-inspired heartbeats, they’re treading dangerously close to forming a fluent album with 'The Channon' and 'Canada'; the former a cloud of dense loops and harmonic experimenting, the latter track delivering a speaker-blown melancholy, crawling across gray horizons, post-everything.

When you consider that Barber and Pearson labeled their self-titled record’s genre as “Children’s Songs” on iTunes, the steps taken on High Places VS Mankind can’t help but feel like a graduation of sorts. Recalling only bits of their awkward past-flirtations with electro-pop, this new material feels ripe with a formative momentum that only occasionally misses the mark (the elementary musings behind 'On a Hill in a Bed on a Road in a House', we can do without). This follow-up isn’t quite as quirky, sure, and the same fan-divisions will argue whether the band has strayed toward commercial outlets. To a degree, they have, although not at the cost of their best assets. Unlike previous efforts, High Places are committing themselves to a scene, trendy as it may be, and writing songs that equate to more than electronic whirls and bangs.

(This review was originally published on No Ripcord...)

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