Music Reviews
Original Colors

High Places Original Colors

(Thrill Jockey) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10

On High Places' blogspot, hellohighplaces, various travel photos that the duo (Mary Pearson & Rob Barber) took throughout the years are posted. Several are posted at once, suggesting a correlation between them; perhaps they were all taken during the same trip (oddly, the duo leave out telling exactly where they went, making the posts somewhat ambiguous.) Just recently they blogged the lyrics to their new album Original Colors. With lines like "The water was lifting from the sea / The fog a growing wave," Pearson's imagistic lyricism is on full display. Following Ezra Pound's rules about Imagism, there is (in Pearson's lyrics) a "direct treatment of the thing." And moreover, there's also "absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation." This is but one small, significant change to High Places' current sound -- the lyrics -- which focus on nature without any indeterminacy.

Sadly, Original Colors isn't extraordinary music. Pearson's vocals sound drowsy and flat -- they barely skim the cream of the schoolgirl melodies that marked the apogee of her brilliance on their self-titled release. Barber's beats are blank, aggressive and don't call attention to themselves. When mixed, the alchemy between vocal and beat doesn't cohere. Their isn't any monument-building or any call-to-arms toward climax. They aren't complimenting each other anymore, try as they may. And their style, that once came in several shades, now sounds blotted.

Some might fashion Original Colors as minimal, but it is not; High Places are just restricting their structure to ask themselves: can our sound gain from limitations? They aren't the first artists to ask this question. Perec (followed by other members of OULIPO) asked this in his novel A Void. Springsteen (arguably) asked this with Nebraska. Even Fischer asked this with Chess960. For High Places, limitation is a form of wobbly transformation. This transforming for them is inchoate and nothing more than testing something new and small and essential, as opposed to some fabricated defense from Trojan Horses that incorrectly burden electronic musicians. Indeed, High Places have recorded another prenatal album that hasn't shown the stretch marks that will hopefully indicate a new shape for their future work. Yet sometimes, one man's hope can be another man's funeral march.