A collection of tracks previously available on 7-inch vinyl and compilations. This is the first time these songs are all available on CD. High Places songs contain a range of aural layers: bells and bird calls over a wash of ocean waves; mallets hitting mixing bowls over treated guitar and glockenspiel; reflective vocals over inventive and infectious beats. Look for the band on tour this summer with Deerhunter and No Age, along with an appearance at the Pitchfork Music Festival.
Review by Tim Sendra
The High Places sound is a bubbly, frothy mix of tribal beats, light percussion, spacy samples, and the sweet-as-pie vocals of Mary Pearson. She and Robert Barber create a sound that is both sophisticated and childlike, and the songs are short and catchy but by no means simplistic. There is real craft behind their sound that can be lost in the seemingly primitive electronics. The duo no doubt spent a long time working to find the right blend of acoustic instruments and loops and bleeps. It pays off richly and the songs have the feel of highly polished gems. "Universe" is the highlight of the record, as Pearson's vocal careens around like a cute kid dancing happily at a birthday party and the music spins and whirls behind her. Really, the whole record feels like that. It's hard to imagine anyone hearing this band or this record and not coming away with a smile or, at the very least, a warm feeling. This collection of their singles released between March and September 2007 (plus three harder-to-find tracks) is an entrancing introduction to the band, and it stokes the fires of anticipation for their first full-length album. Thrill Jockey is lucky to have the High Places, and fans of smart, pretty folktronic world psychedelia (or whatever you care to call it) are lucky, too.
03/07 – 09/07
The Brooklyn-based duo High Places are most often compared to Beat Happening, a band cherished for their regression-- into musical primitivism, adolescent sexuality, and any other condition that twenty- and thirtysomethings bemoan the loss of in therapy. High Places' indulgence in nursery rhymes aside, the kinship is mostly an ideological one: Like Beat Happening, they exult in the simple.
03/07 - 09/07, a collection of the band's first 7" and stray compilation tracks (released through the mp3 subscription service eMusic), shows a group whose comfort zone isn't the folky imperative, but heady, hippyish imprecision. The songs here are almost all identical: polyrhythmic miniatures built by small drums and shakers, clouded by blankets of echo and reverb; deliberately basic structures; short, and in their own way, catchy and pretty. Rhythms suggest provinces a step removed from where other white, arty urbanites tend to dwell: There are flashes of soca, reclined bounces that remind me of Indian music, and though "Sandy Feat"'s swing could be Tom Petty's "American Girl" or David Bowie's "Modern Love", they inflect it they way Brazilian bands like Os Mutantes did (or Paul Simon on Rhythm of the Saints).
High Places' trunk-rattling impulses are juxtaposed with a spacious, almost tranquil atmosphere, with Rob Barber's percussion chiming and floating rather than physically hitting, and Mary Pearson's sweetly flat vocals layered to the point that her lyrics often become indistinguishable. That blur makes High Places' music hypnotic: Pearson chatters away like a light-headed kid on the playground on one song and intones a mantra on the next, and it's only then that you notice how both forms operate on the same principle: repetition induces calm. (Full disclosure: Pearson's sister is a former Pitchfork employee.)
Pearson's vocals and the duo's lyrics are charmingly coquettish: She reduces falling in love to "Oh, you're a pretty boy, a pretty boy" and writes letters to Martians. "Jump In", penned for Pearson's Michigan elementary school, is so full of encouragement that it scans like the transcription of a guidance counselor or junior minister. "Canary" apologizes to animals displaced by ecological warfare-- "we really messed up." The sentiments are frank, but I out them for three reasons: There's nothing wrong with being positive, the band's confident enough to handle it, and they make me happy.
"Universe"'s lyric makes this clear: "It takes a lot of guts to be a little baby in this place." The idea of returning to infancy might resonate as a dippy bohemian nightmare, but in a society where moderate cynicism is considered a higher road to intelligence than acceptance and curiosity, and where sarcasm is considered a social reflex, you'd be hard pressed to argue with them-- it does take guts.
- Mike Powell, February 14, 2008