High Places – High Places vs. Mankind

January 01, 1970

(Thrill Jockey)

 

www.thrilljockey.com

 

High Places dials down the eccentricity in their second
full-length, finding a very sweet spot where experimental freak folk meets top
40 diva pop. High Places Vs. Mankind is delivered in much sharper focus than the duo’s earlier output, tethered to
stronger, more lucid beats. Yet it still has a dreamy surreality, a lullaby
softness in Mary Pearson’s voice that sounds at once as if it is right next to
your ear and, also, distantly inscrutable. “The Longest Shadows,” opening the
disc, is mostly ramshackle rhythm, fitted out with little blurts of keyboard
and an eerie synthetic melody. Pearson’s self-harmonies are intoxicating, warm
syrup dripping over partner Rob Barber’s glossy, chilly electro arrangements. “On
Giving Up” has even more of a new wave, disco feel, its plasticine keyboards evoking
the Cure, its insistent cadences strobe-lit and glamorous.  

 

“She’s a Wild Horse,” is the dreamiest and most beautiful of
these songs, taking place for once lyrically on the tropical island that High
Places seems to inhabit aesthetically all the time. A mélange of wordless
voices, scratchy percussion and altered guitar sets the stage for Pearson’s
most glancingly pretty singing. She hardly seems to touch the notes at all,
just breathes on them, and they open up like flowers. Later, on “Canada,” you
can even hear the Rob Barber’s guitar sounding, uncharacteristically for this
band, very much like a guitar. Yet though rock might be suggested, here and
there, by instruments and beats, Vs.
Mankind
has more of a downtempo hip hop vibe.

 

This mild, beat-centric aura reaches its peak in “On a Hill
in a Bed on a Road in a House,” a playground chant left to soften in warm
sunshine. Its syncopated rhythms simmer but never spill over. There are no big
climaxes in this album, just a consistent undulating pleasure. And while High
Places may have backed off the home-recorded, skip-hopping oddities of their
early singles, there’s a strangeness here, too. It flickers at the edge of even
their most pop-dance conventional cuts, like a hologram you can’t quite believe
in.

 

Standout
Tracks:
“She’s a Wild Horse,” “The Longest Shadows” “On a Hill in a
Bed on a Road in a House” JENNIFER
KELLY

 

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