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“A Bit on High Places and Their Unusual Sort of Career Downfall; also, Against Objectivity in Qualitative Musical Assessments”

Boy, that High Places self-titled debut was awesome. It had this warm, understandable listenability about it, for how avant-garde the musical techniques were (an indescribable schizophrenia of programmed drums and organic, unorthodox percussion and not a conventional sound on the entire album). The whole thing congealed around this firm understanding of pop and in their own ways the songs became signature creations in and of themselves.

Their 2008 release seems like just about the pinnacle of indie-rock madness but listening to it today, it’s kind of easy to see how the general public wouldn’t have an attention span for this type of thing. It’s literally like Beavis and Butthead have taken over the world and replaced Metallica with bimbos and dudes with Down’s Syndrome singing about fu**ing .

Well, let me perhaps reprieve you of your overwhelmed disposition before my extreme snobbery and admit: High Places’ later stuff wasn’t as good as their early stuff. It’s the REASONING behind this, though, that it interesting, if you’re concerned with musicians’ artistic arcs and how their minds work. Ooh, yeah.

See, it’s typically common in a band’s EARLY days for them to emulate the techniques and sound of another act… I mean Pablo Honey is basically an Alice in Chains album, The Bends is like Crosby, Stills and Nash if you took away their crack supply, but nobody would confuse any Radiohead album after that with any other band. High Places take this concept and turn it on its side in an interesting way, especially seeing as you’d be hard-pressed to find a more “original,” or not-like-anybody-else, project in the history of indie rock or of pop music in general than their 2008 self-titled debut.

But 2011’s Original Colors, while not BAD in the sense of being simplistic or repetitive, dissolves troublingly quick into basically a Mouse on Mars clone — the spliced rim hits, the rapid cow bell, a lot of mimicked rhythms. Welcome to the globalized age of social media, I guess, when a singer can gain a music degree from Western Michigan, form a band in New York, migrate to LA and then put out an album… that’s exactly like a bunch of Germans. Looks like the Krauts got us back for that one, although we were still the first country to use the drum machine, besting Can by one year (Sly & the Family Stone, 1971).

And everybody loves listening to Iaora Tahiti by Mouse on Mars. It’s absolutely a classic IDM album with undulations from gleeful to dark and tense, and back, all unleashed with sophisticated rhythms and song structures. Furthermore, it’s really not a project that’s been COPIED too much, probably since copying it is a little more challenging than doing so of, say, Green Day. So why should it be so repugnant and unlistenable when High Places put out a Mouse on Mars covers album?

It’s sort of hard to explain, I guess — it’s just one of those rules of the world, like universal law rewarding realness and punishing fakeness. Listening to Original Colors, having already taken in Iaora Tahiti and put several of the songs on playlists and whatnot, I just get this DIRTY feeling about me. It’s like if one of your friends started acting exactly like another one. It’s like worse than them jumping around and smearing their sh** on the walls. Anything is better than mimicry. In light of this, when I just hurl unceremonious amounts of music, every year, on my “albums” list, it would be foolish to think every one of those albums would soundtrack some poignant night of soul-searching where I’m sitting with a glass of wine looking out my window, or whatever.

But music is like seeing someone’s face, kinda. It should reflect the person’s inner feelings, which of course can be transitive, but which are also inevitable given a certain youthful time and that we all have endocrine systems. You don’t want to see two people’s faces that are exactly like each other, since it would be easy to confuse them and it would also just be weird, and likewise, you don’t want to hear two musicians that are exactly like each other, particularly in electronica, where as we all know it’s harder to express singular emotion. Maybe High Places lacked emotion from the start, like they were high-and-dry-places. In all fairness, one compelling moment does come on Original Colors, which is singer Mary Pearson in “Morning Ritual” declaring “Balmy days / Dusty roads / Not a tree for shade / Never rains / Never snows / Every day the same”. Here, in addition to how LA isn’t even the band’s original home, let alone Pearson’s we sort of see the restlessness in her which would compel this move out west, her only inspiration coming from these rare fixations on “invisible men,” as The Breeders might say, people who aren’t excited by anything. I guess for now we can assume that Mary Pearson has since gotten what she wanted and there’s no more need for this “artistic expression” crap. Well, they love something that isn’t exactly easy to love, IDM music, so they should get some kudos for that, at least.

 

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