High Places vs. Mankind
Apr 06, 2010 Issue #30 - Winter 2010 - Vampire Weekend
High Places gained prominence in the Brooklyn DIY loft show scene thanks in large part to their incendiary live performances, and a charismatic frontwoman in Mary Pearson. Their records, while fine enough, never fully captured the electricity of their shows. But High Places vs. Mankind doesn't even attempt to do this, hewing more closely to soft-focus ascetic experimentation, recalling the ghostly ethereality of early His Name is Alive amalgamated with Eastern-tinged tribal percussion. It's their most fully realized recording to date, a terrific record that showcases that beyond the sonic window dressing, the act are top notch songwriters.
Much of Mankind is portentous, even crepuscular. Opening track "Shadows" could be a Hounds of Love outtake, with Pearson's talismanic pronouncements sullenly wrapping themselves around the eerie keyboard undulations in a Kate Bush-ian manner. The signifiers of the band's sound are still evident—jittery rhythms, ambient instrumental passages, gauzy washes of guitar courtesy of Rob Barber. But they're more subtle, restrained, and tasteful here.
The shoegazey, reverb-drenched "Canada" sees Pearson sounding as icily detached as Nico on The Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties," while the insistent chime of "Constant Winter" finds her incanting, "They bought a house, they had a baby." Both conjure a cloistered domesticated dystopia not dissimilar to the memory devices explored on Fever Ray's self-titled album.
Yet there's a delicacy and vulnerability revealed by Pearson throughout, particularly on closer "When It Comes," a stark intimation of mortality. As she softly intones, "There's so much in me yet/Death has come and now it's gone," she's also suggesting something of a rebirth, appropriate given that Mankind is a startling reinvention of a superb band willing to tug hard at the boundaries of their sound, accomplished here to stunning effect. (www.myspace.com/hellohighplaces)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 8/10
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