High Places – Original Colors

written by: October 19, 2011
Release Date: October 11th, 2011


High Places, the do-it-yourself duo consisting of Rob Barber and Mary Pearson, has returned. Once lauded as the feel-good indie group of the year, the band has taken to exploring some, shall we say, lower ground with its latest release. The familiar formula continues in Original Colors: Pearson pontificating poetically over Barber’s deft percussion stylings, with a host of bent dance riffs and dreamy keyboards serving as the cream filling.

It’s immediately apparent that two things are lacking in this release. First, Pearson seems to be getting complacent. Her ghosted wordplay used to cut stones and burn in memory. Now, on tracks such as “Year Off,” she can’t manage to string together anything meaningful, even when the imagery is arresting, “The blackish water/Swirling around/In a basin I left in the yard.”  The effect is always sweet, if not a little unnerving to hear her voice shudder over the bare-bones arrangements. However, the suspension of disbelief breaks, and listeners might find themselves falling through. The second matter is that Barber’s electro, jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, salsa, (please chime in with more here) drum contributions are killing it here. They are eons more infectious, informed and danceable than previous efforts. The drumming is so pitch-perfect, though, that it only calls attention to the vacuity of the vocal track. Case in point: bongo banger “The Pull.”

Well, all this and that the album is not lighthearted. No, no, no. After a nonchalant attitude toward songwriting, championing teenage angst, dripping in awkward sexuality, High Places want you to know just how serious they are, whether it’s Pearson milking a Dryad-like persona or Barber dwelling on an atonal, seething electro chord for just a moment too long. They are High Places, and if their first record lacked any real gumption, well, this one is back with a vengeance. That doesn’t mean it’s without moments. “Morning Ritual,” a little elegiac piece where the two interplay over heavy dubbing, is a standout if only for its deep reggae feel. Likewise, the luminous chorale “Twenty Seven” deftly loops Pearson’s voice over itself, eventually cutting out all accompaniment, absolving the tension momentarily. The words are indecipherable, but the harmonies are gorgeous.

What’s so annoying about Original Colors is you can see the band trying to be different for different’s sake; the members are trying to consciously separate themselves from their contemporaries and doff historical precedent (at times, it seems as though they’re playing a Depeche Mode pad) or at least get away enough that a comparison is only a key-in and not a foregone conclusion.

But they did move to Brooklyn from Los Angeles, so what can one expect? Phantagram, Cults, Yacht and even Crystal Castles are all running on similar concepts, so it could be seen as a survival tactic rather than an abandonment of roots.

All said, Original Colors is not a bad album, not by any means. It’s even got some muscle. The problem is, there are plenty of “decent” albums out there from a slew of like-minded electro-indie bands. So why High Places? Maybe, just maybe, the band is correct in trying to divert from their contemporaries.

High Places – Original Colors tracklist:

  1. “Year Off”
  2. “The Pull”
  3. “Sonora”
  4. “Ahead Stop”
  5. “Sophia”
  6. “Dry Lake”
  7. “Morning Ritual”
  8. “Banksia”
  9. “Twenty Seven”
  10. “Altos Lugares”