High Places Original Colors

[Thrill Jockey; 2011]

Styles: pseudo-tribal indie pop, head-nodding dance music
Others: NewVillager, Telepathe, Ambien

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. Mankind, less an instance of the band losing the plot than a transparent display of stagnancy. Unfortunately, the same thing could be said for the duo’s most recent work, released here under the title of Original Colors. If only.

There have been some developments in the band’s sound in the last year — most conspicuously, a greater presence of squelching synth bass — but for the most part, these so-called “original colors” feel nothing more than recycled ones. Poorly recycled ones, at that — ideas that were once treated with grace and winking charm are presented here in a rote fashion. Too many songs here bob along aimlessly, never reaching anything remotely resembling a climax, let alone a satisfying denouement. Which wouldn’t normally be a problem, really, except that tracks like “Banksia” and “Dry Lake” end up being caught in a purgatory between minimal deep house and percussive, folky pop. Instead of skillfully dabbling in both territories to form a worthwhile fusion of the two, the end results are superficially pleasant collections of sounds that never converge satisfactorily, which means that Original Colors ends up sounding simultaneously overproduced and unfinished. This is music to vacuum and do your dishes to, wallpaper music in the most derogatory sense of the term. It fades into any and all surrounding ambience with remarkable ease.

Not one moment lands. “Twenty-Seven” is an agreeable excursion into Julianna Barwick’s post-Enya territory, but as with so much of the material on Original Colors, it’s a half-decent idea stretched out longer than it should be — and we’re talking about a 96-second track here. The bubbling synths and typically gurgling percussion of “The Pull” are compelling for approximately 16 bars before they fall into predictable patterns, and Pearson’s aloof delivery is simply too insignificant to be at all impressionable. Even the album’s strongest cut, closer “Altos Lugares,” is clumsily executed, caught between efficiency and looseness. It’s the balance between these two abstract musical concepts that is entirely lacking here, and the bite that tracks need to be properly danceable is nowhere to be found. Seriously, these beats sound utterly limp, despite their considerable complexity and decent punchiness. Ultimately, High Places have succeeded in doing something that, on paper, seems an impossibility: they’ve managed to make an album that is undeniably focused around rhythms sound like an absolute slog.

Links: High Places - Thrill Jockey

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