Release Date: Oct 11, 2011
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
High Places’ first releases were complex-as-clockwork fits of ingenuity filed into four-minute segments. Over time, the sound has become more syncopated and murky—but almost commercially viable. “The Pull” is practically Feist-like, save for the jittery bass pulses and wayward laser-guided synths. Other tracks feature insanely detailed dub experiments but in a way that keeps things streamlined and eerie (“Morning Ritual”).
High Places' third album finds the duo of Rob Barber and Mary Pearson all the more comfortable and assured in a realm of moody electronic pop for the 21st century, at once drawing on familiar roots and putting distinct, enjoyable spins on the results. Beginning with the commanding "Year Off," punchy beats and murky tones offsetting Pearson's calm, sweeter but still slightly lost and forlorn singing, Original Colors shudders with a crackling energy. The sense of understatement that prevails is one of High Places' strongest qualities; instead of pop-as-sprawling-immediacy, or even the minimal focus of an act like the xx, Original Colors feels slippery and strange, echo and swathes of unidentifiable sound filling in the spaces between the nervous beats and bass pulses.
This isn't the way it's supposed to go. A band that moves from Brooklyn to L.A., as High Places did around the time of their second album, High Places Vs. Mankind, is supposed to get more chilled-out, not less. But maybe the minimization of their mellowness has something to do with the fact that the duo's airy, ethereal sound was already about as ambient and evanescent as it could get, and there was no place to go but into a more groove-based space.
On their third album, Rob Barber and Mary Pearson, who make up High Places, want to be more adult. Though the band has explored darker themes, the standout sounds on the previous two albums (2008’s self-titled offering and last year’s more interesting Vs. Mankind) occur in the childlike range made so popular by Animal Collective. But with Original Colors, the duo have stripped down the instrumentation to a dubby focus on percussion and bass and have discovered a sultrier side to Pearson’s vocals.
Whimsy's tough. Too much, and you risk damning yourself to frivolity, cutesiness; too little, and you flirt with a potentially stultifying self-seriousness. Brooklyn-to-L.A. junkyard-pop duo High Places managed to keep their whimsy in check on their early EPs and stellar, spectral self-titled LP, matching Mary Pearson's swooping sing-songs to an alluring back-bedroom clang, playfully delivered but painstakingly crafted.
On High Places' blogspot, hellohighplaces, various travel photos that the duo (Mary Pearson & Rob Barber) took throughout the years are posted. Several are posted at once, suggesting a correlation between them; perhaps they were all taken during the same trip (oddly, the duo leave out telling exactly where they went, making the posts somewhat ambiguous.) Just recently they blogged the lyrics to their new album Original Colors. With lines like "The water was lifting from the sea / The fog a growing wave," Pearson's imagistic lyricism is on full display.
From the opening of High Places‘ third record, Original Colors, it’s clear that something fairly fundamental has changed. The best moments off of the self-titled debut from the duo of Rob Barber and Mary Pearson were undeniably cute, the electronic instrumentation glimmering and pulsing, the polyrhythms and love story lyrical content dripping with sentimentalism. The darkwave, almost Depeche Mode-y synths and lost-at-sea vocal performance from Pearson on album opener “Year Off”, on the other hand, have an eerie confidence to them, a new dance music bleakness.
Whatever happened to High Places? The Brooklyn-originating duo (now recently relocated to Los Angeles) seemed so refreshing all the way back in the far-off land of 2008, when they released a string of excellent singles and an utterly beguiling self-titled debut album. Their approach to songwriting felt unforced, and consequently, High Places seemed the sonic equivalent of a flower’s petals shyly but determinedly opening up. But then there was 2010’s High Places vs.