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High Places: 03/07-09/07

High Places: 03/07-09/07

Label:Thrill Jockey
Release Date:2008

By Raymond Cummings | Posted 10/22/2008

Headphone-equipped adventurers returning from preliminary hikes to High Places may report a bafflement similar to the one that greeted M.I.A.'s Arular before that album had an opportunity to really register. There's no there there, it seems, no central glue that binds the songs together; everything's a mite too airy, too open. And there's some truth to that--the Brooklyn, N.Y., duo of Mary Pearson and Bob Barber do err on the side of slightness. Yet that loose construction is a huge chunk of their charm; there's a particularly tropical High Places song titled "Head Spins Head Spins," and those four words encapsulate the experience of listening to the band: large washes of reverberated, instrumental splintered tones pieced into deceptively basic-sounding electronic pop, topped by Pearson's just-shy-of-precocious twee imaginings. Unfortunately for the impatient, you have to live with High Places' brand of tropical, piecemeal drone before it starts to dominate the mental playlist.

Released last July, 03/07-09/07 collects early EP and 7-inch tracks, while High Places is a more of a proper, cohesive statement. A refreshingly gentle breeze of feathery ellipses, 03/07-09/07 sounds almost like it was recorded underwater; tones ripple and splash, vocals prettily reverberate forward and backward, whalelike cries burble, light pitch shifts circle liquid-y hooks. Rattling bells and circulating vocal drones open "Canary" before Pearson starts in with a series of fluid, nursery rhyme-style societal recriminations--"Our space is limited, it's getting crowded/ The river has dried up, the air's looking clouded"--over a wetly popping beatscape.

Listening to cloud-watching remembrance "Banana Slugs Cosmonaut," you almost share the song's projected sense of plummeting weightlessness, the slow drift upward--until the intro's lightheaded gurgles and multiplied vocal lines give way to melodics more corporeal, more grounded, more sonorous. "Jump In" devotes itself to experiential cheerleading: "If we cannot take the first step, we cannot go too far/ Let's get a move on, jump in," Pearson urges, babbling keyboard swatches and wood-on-wood knocks and clicks brightly driving home the theme.

High Places, released late last month, tightens up the arrangements slightly and reinforces the hooks, and it holds the attention just a little bit tighter. Recontextualized banjo notes and found-sound rustles form the backbone of "The Storm," offering a breadcrumb trail for Pearson to follow with high-register, tree-climbing play-by-play. Instrumental "Papaya Year" sounds like the soundtrack to some psychedelic Downy ad; Pearson and Barber build a small, madrigal ocean of glassy chimes and dispatch waves through it, creating a wondrous, dreamlike interlude. "Namer" even slips into the dance-music realm--its nocturnal metropolitan bloops recall Dirty Vegas' "Days Go By" even as the track's sonics expand to include tropical percussive trills, Growing-ish vibrations, a lysergic vocal hall of mirrors, and singsongy environmentalist fantasies.

So quilted and silken are 03/07-09/07 and High Places that it's possible, at moments, to lose sight of how inorganic their construction actually is. In an era when assorted drone-pop acts are sprouting like weeds, High Places have carved out a nice little niche for themselves, and it'll be interesting to see what they've got to offer as their compositional garden expands.

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