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Video of the Moment #2022: High Highs

 
By on Tuesday, 23rd February 2016 at 6:00 pm
 

Brooklyn via Sydney duo High Highs released their latest album, the gorgeous ‘Cascades’, the first Friday of February on PIAS. (Read my review of the long player here.) My choice of standout on the album, ‘How Could You Know’, now has its own promo video. Perhaps this video is funnier to me than most anyone else, as my parents bought a karaoke machine for our house back in the ’90s, so the incongruous visuals of strangers while a song plays gaily to their weirdly unemotional acting tap into a part of my childhood that’s been untouched for a long time. Cheesy? Indubitably, yes. If you can’t stand watching it, focus your eyes somewhere else and just listen to the track. (I’ve really sold this well, haven’t I?) Enjoy ‘How Could You Know’ below.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBQYPC2lyCw[/youtube]

 

Album Review: High Highs – Cascades

 
By on Monday, 1st February 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

High Highs Cascades album coverI didn’t think I’d ever encounter an album for which I’d have read that the artist in question had wanted the album to sound like a certain country, and then went on to actually achieve it. There hasn’t been one in recent memory that I can recall, so now I’m prepared to eat my words. The sophomore full-length effort from Brooklyn via Sydney duo High Highs is the source of all this confoundment. In the press release, multi-instrumentalist Oli Chang explains, “If you go to Australia, it’s a beach country…You have year-round summer, basically. That really influences the music.”

Despite ‘Cascades’ having been recorded in upstate New York, their hearts and minds were far away, thinking of home and the synthpop music they grew up with. In addition to their fondness for wide expanses of surf-y real estate down under, they’ve cited John Farnham’s mid-‘80s anthem ‘You’re the Voice’ and the back catalogue of Icehouse (a band also favoured by fellow Aussies Little May, who covered the band’s ‘Great Southern Land’ on their recent tour of America) as important inspirations for the new LP. Make no mistake, though: this album sounds fresh and bracing, not at all like a badge-covered denim jacket of that bygone era that’s simply been dusted off.

This desire to channel and, ultimately, also recreate this feeling of an arms wide open-type of freedom is palpable throughout the album. Opening track ‘Boxing’, which premiered in early December on influential Seattle radio station KEXP, moves forward in a pleasantly languid pace. The tune also tapped into the duo’s feelings of euphoria following their own early morning boxing classes, Chang describing the chord-driven instrumentation as “sound[ing] like a giant walking through a vast landscape”, while his recording partner Jack Milas’ breathy lead vocals add dreaminess. It’s a positive kind of dreaminess, too: one that will lift you out of the shadowy fog of this winter and onto a brighter plane.

Varying levels of this heavenly touch exist throughout ‘Cascades’, but through different filters. Album closer ‘Fastnet’ and ‘Movement’ see the duo flirt with r&b and soul, the former ending the proceeding with cool fingersnaps, while the latter favours bigger booms of percussion for added drama. Pop is approached splendidly on ‘Catch the Wind’, where a nice sequence of chord changes in the chorus are accompanied by further supporting this idea of liberty: “hey, you’re not alone / go break the mould / go where you are free.”

Album standout ‘How Could You Know’ is a great mix of pop and indie, with prominent guitars and a catchy Fleetwood Mac-esque beat playing off Milas’ voice extremely well, as if it was just another instrument in their arsenal. Another great, catchy moment is the LP’s title track, proving that even with a lot going instrumentally, in the right hands and with the right amount of restraint, a beautiful, timeless quality can be applied to a synth-driven pop song. Not too much, not too little. Just right.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_n02mfCmIU[/youtube]

When speaking of ‘Cascades’ as a whole, Chang says, “We just tried to make the record beautiful…We weren’t trying to be edgy or difficult – we were striving to make it as epically beautiful as we possibly could. Hopefully when people hear it, it will make them think of something that’s important to them.” Mission accomplished, guys.

8/10

The second album from High Highs, ‘Cascades’, will be out on this Friday, the 5th of February, on PIAS. For more on High Highs on TGTF, you can read my Bands to Watch introducing the duo originally from Australia that posted back last November here.

 

Bands to Watch #308: High Highs

 
By on Friday, 14th November 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

In Stuart Maconie’s book “Cider with Roadies”, he explained how he once described ’70s-’80s Perth band The Triffids, after seeing them live, as makers of “huge music written under huge skies for long trips through empty deserts”. While on a long roadtrip on my birthday visit to Australia 2 years ago this month, I commented to a blogger friend of mine with a similar idea, that there must be something very special as to why much of the music made by so many Aussie and Kiwi artists made me feel so great, and in a way I couldn’t easily put into words. Timeless? Yes. Beautiful? Yes.

While dreamy indie pop duo High Highs no longer live in Sydney, having relocated to Brooklyn for their shot at professional success, their sound still seems to me to still feel very Aussie-influenced. Which in my books is a very good thing. Following on from the huge global success of The Naked and Famous but following their own rules and style, Jack Milas and Oli Chang look poised to be the next big thing from Down Under. They already have a self-titled EP and a debut album (2013’s ‘Open Season’) under their belts, but the next stage of their career is just beginning.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydQLEGt8BDQ[/youtube]

At the start of October, the duo released their latest EP ‘Ocean to City’, comprised of three amazing tracks. The timing of this release couldn’t be beat; soon we’ll all be plunged into the bleak, dark winter, and yet ‘Ocean to City’ is giving us a relaxed respite from all of that. The title track’s video, which premiered on Billboard last week, shows Milas and Chang driving around in an open-top convertible in the carefree land of California, while they pass surfers, beaches and palm trees, all under a seemingly never-ending blue sky. (Funny, the time I visited Sydney, I thought, “hmm, this is like London. Except it’s sunny and clean…”) Milas’ dreamy vocals telling of the yearning of a lover counterbalance the upbeat driving rhythm of the track so it’s neither too sweet or too melancholic. It’s the natural choice for a single, guaranteed to get toes tapping and new fans singing along to its chirpy yet loving message.

‘Glamorous Party’ is pensive, brooding. Chang’s keyboard chords match the drama of Milas’ voice, which oozes from falsetto and not, adding shades of light and dark to the song. But it’s ‘Catch the Wind’ that holds my attention the longest. It’s a study of relationships, and it’s a study of loneliness. It’s a modern pop retelling of that classic chestnut, “if you love somebody, set her free. If she comes back, she’s yours, If she doesn’t, she never was…”

Milas sings in the chorus, “hey, you’re not alone / go break the mold / go where you are free” and echoing oohs swirl around you, a product of High Highs’ ambient pop palette. True beauty. We’ll have to wait and see if this duo will join the illustrious ranks of legendary bands from their homeland. But based on the strength of this latest EP, a packed residency at Pianos in New York City and a past sold out show at London Old Queen’s Head, I think they have an incredibly good shot at making it.

High Highs’ ‘Ocean to City’ EP is available now from their Bandcamp at a price you name.

 
 
 

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