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High Places High Places vs. Mankind Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

They’ve invention enough to outlast most of the chillwave players.

Mike Diver 2010

High Places’ debut album of 2008, an eponymous collection that rightly attracted its share of plaudits, was capped by a song of such exquisite elegance that it’s effectively obscured its makers’ other efforts ever since. That track, From Stardust to Sentience, has proved a blessing and a curse: its ethereal splendour continues to captivate, but it’s far from the sole feather in this duo’s multi-coloured cap.

High Places vs. Mankind, album two excluding a compilation affair, sets out to shatter any notion that this Los Angeles via Brooklyn (that’s right: the two actively moved away from the fertile creative communities of the NYC borough) is a one-trick pony. The more beat-based numbers on their debut tended to be overlooked; but here, from the very outset, these pulses and thuds, rattles and taps take centre stage. The Longest Shadows is more suited to the club than an early morning comedown – although we’re talking about a nightspot that bounces to Pit er Pat and Telepathe as frequently as it does Rusko and Starkey. A shimmer familiar to first album acolytes does rise to the surface around the opener’s middle, Mary Pearson’s vocals stretching into astral plains; but throughout propulsion is maintained by locked-in low-end rhythms.

A greater emphasis on so-called conventional instrumentation is apparent come this album’s second number: On Giving Up plays like the work of a standard three-piece, drums and bass and guitar present in a mix that’s leaning towards a decidedly ominous atmosphere. The lens-flared soft-focus fuzziness of their debut hasn’t exactly been enhanced by the west coast relocation – when it does emerge, as on the summer rain prettiness of The Channon, it’s set to loop rather than to spread like ripples on a sparkling pond. The military percussive motifs of Constant Winter, however playfully constructed, resound with deliberate coldness – an apt trait given the song’s intentions-signalling title. It’s not without beauty, though, and this balance between encroaching discomfort and warm, enveloping drone keeps attentions in place.

Not everything’s as fully realised as it could be: On a Hill… has hypnotic ambitions but comes across weakly. But when it works, it works magnificently: the orchestral swell of Drift Slayer is among the most gorgeous things you’ll hear this year. It’s no Stardust…, but High Places have moved on, positioning themselves on the fringes of the ongoing chillwave explosion with enough invention to outlast most of its central protagonists.

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