High Places High Places

[Thrill Jockey; 2008]

Styles: dream-pop, ambient
Others: Panda Bear, Beach House

Fairies, muskrats, and medicine men -- these and more chime ‘n’ chant for you on the new self-titled High Places album. Singer Mary Pearson’s voice, smothered in warm blankets of echo and delay, rests amidst Rob Barber’s hypnotic patchwork of shook gourds and slapped drum pads. The album displays tremendous consistency, yet never devolves into repetition or monotony. Instead, the fluidity creates a unified listening experience, with the dream-like illusion maintained throughout. Indeed, High Places plays like a favorite storybook, a fanciful tale of wonder with enough gaps for the imagination.

By shifting between instrumental- and lyric-driven tracks, the fog never gets too thick. At times, Pearson’s sustained notes linger and blend with the enveloping atmospherics, as on the gorgeous, contemplative stillness of “From Stardust to Sentience.” At others, though, the waves of shamanic texture recede, leaving room for more literary musings like, “The picture’s clear though it’s going black/ And your favorite song’s still the hidden track,” on “Vision’s the First...” Meanwhile, “The Storm” sees Mary obscuring the divide between a soft voice and a strong wind, as her soothing tone wisps lightly through the treetops.

While cohesive as a whole, many of the songs venture through their own discreet narratives. “The Tree with the Lights in it” sashays to the dull thud of a tribal Djembe in the last shadows of night, before a rousing sunrise melody arcs up over the beach. A procession of digitized steel drums set off, led by a whispering princess through the sleepy-eyed village. Later, “Papaya Year” sees our hero spelunking through crystal-walled caves, in calm search of the gnomes whose dinner music wafts through the shimmering tunnels. Although more expressive, some songs on High Places do lack the immediacy of older works like “Head Spins.” Barber, in the meantime, though, has gained serious prowess over his sound’s stereo image. His stable of percussive toys cluck and honk from all directions, giving a satisfying feeling of immersion.

High Places are naturals. Remaining fresh without disturbing a winning method, the group have outdone themselves with this album. It manages to captures our curiosity without giving away too much, gently nudging us to explore. Coming into a subtle sophistication quickly, their main foe now is stagnation.

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