HIGH PLACES – High Places vs Mankind

Thrill Jockey

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Alternating between a full on club experience, albeit one that’s not your usual fare and the experience of a morning after comedown, the second album from Los Angeles via Brooklyn duo, High Places is a confounding yet exhilirating journey, especially for those unfamiliar with their first efforts, the impressive self titled debut and the brilliant, but at times difficult to access compilation of singles and ep tracks, 03.07-09.07. Beginning as it does with two tracks full of dance sensibility, High Places vs Mankind can trick you into thinking the quirkiness of that first album is gone. But lurking beneath the veneer of both is that signature tribal feel, weaving its way in and out leaving the listener with a feeling of being unsettled and indicative that neither ‘The Longest Shadows’ or single ‘On Giving Up’ is entirely comfortable as straight ahead dance music. The former combines Mary Pearson’s haunting vocals with a tribal beat and a spiked out funky guitar riff which gives way to a carousel sounding synth while the Indie30 chart staple possesses a otherworldly chiming synth that sits perfectly alongside the other similarly alien, yet organic sounds that abound on the track.

‘She’s A Wild Horse’ takes you from the club to the jungle. You almost feel your being transported across by sea to a deserted tropical island as the looped beat and Pearson’s vocal herald an unsettling destination, almost the calm before the veritable storm. The track then has you there tracking your way through the foliage, all the while never certain where you’re going or where you’ll end up. ‘The Channon’ is where you stop and take stock, the surrounding jungle enveloping you as breath is caught and predicament assessed. Then all of a sudden your out of danger, and on the icy tundra in ‘Canada’, the northern lights firing across the clear night sky. ‘Constant Winter’ keeps you there although now the wonderment is gone and the fight with the cold is on in earnest, the big beats hitting you like that storm aforementioned, just that this is of the snow variety.

Just when you think the album is never going to let you off the snowy wastelands with the experimental orchestration of the hypnotic ‘Drift Slayer’ (is this that comedown track?), Pearson’s luscious echoed voice and the chilled out beats that make up ‘The Most Beautiful Name’ allows your escape. It is the perfect lead in for the album’s final track, ‘When It Comes’ which perfectly bookends High Places vs Mankind where it began, with a superb off kilter dance number that heralds a tribal return and combines 80s sounding funk and the slightest hint of shoegaze.

This recording sees Pearson and her musical partner, Rob Barber continue their ever growing reputation for crafting an expansive yet concise original sound. That reputation is fully deserved as multiple listens to High Places vs Mankind will testify. They are needed and well and truly rewarded as with each spin a new journey begins that’s resplendent with unexpected twists and turns that both surprise and excite. Exceptional.

James Stocker – April 6, 2010