Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Album Review: The High Strung

Ode to the Inverse of the Dude

Park The Van

Detroit trio The High Strung's first two records were hurried and explosive yet highly technical – a fist-pumping buzz-fun kart-wheel kind of pop-rock that bent closely to their indie-and-punk roots (albeit from more unconventional, similarly fast-but-tight ensembles like the Minutemen, blended with the heartfelt and humble rough-hewn styles of Guided By Voices). Over the last four years (of their now 8-year run) they released two records, (Moxy Bravo & Get The Guests), that were more intricate, more layered and comfortable in indulging an experimental side that included the atmospherics of prog-rock and the fuzzy sheen of dreamy theatrical indie pop.

Now on their 5th, Ode To The Inverse of the Dude, they open up, they slow things down at points, they stretch out, they layer their parts and they set an even more hypnotic mood. Vocals echo around the soundscape, rhythms set more of a groove. Many of the would-be-characteristic run-arounds and motor-away style rock trounces of earlier work (see These Are Good Times) are molded and tweaked by producer David Newfeld, the man who massaged all the shimmering clamber of similarly situated hard-driving/groove-heavy indie-rockers like Broken Social Scene and Los Campesinos. (But this reviewer needs to keep coming back to “heart” and the sound of energy and “heart” captured on tape – in which both BSS and Los Camps often fall short, thus making it vital to capture the chemistry for the Strung). Newfeld, with the boys’ own stretching-into-the-experimental, sprinkles in certain pops and piano pounds and hazy drawn-out intros. The album is popping and soaring with near-psychedelic fuzz explosions, multi-tracked drums pummel their way into that dancey-art-punk realm and other areas are sweetened with swooning strings and energetic run and blurt brass that follow the hooks of the bass.

Another noticeable distinction is Malerman’s voluntary couch-set life-spill-out lyrics, setting the album’s thesis quite bluntly with the opener, a slow-building fuzz choir of one chanted lyric, “Standing at the Doors of Self Discovery.” The song builds steadily with marching drums and jangly guitars. The multi-tracked vocals sets a very communal vibe from the get-go, an overdue emphasis of the brotherly bond the band shares, properly setting this almost-Hey-Jude-ian inclusiveness, yet simultaneously clarifying that this band’s about to look inward and lay it all out for you. All the blemishes (“Guilt is How I’m Built”), all the embarrassments (getting past bed-wetting in “The Lifestyle that Got Away”), or relationship frustration (“Anyone”), all this gets hung out on the clothes line for the whole neighborhood to see. For a band who’s always pigeonholed as the non-stop-tour-band, or the library-tour-band, or the bus-donation-to-the-rock-n-roll-hall-of-fame-band – this album’s dynamics force you to consider their sound and style – to get to know them. This is the album is rapt with expressiveness.

Not only is Ode the album where they open up lyrically, but, they bolster their sound such that it becomes a dual declaration, not just of personality but also of talent/taste/ability. Going from the more spastic pop of the past into the more cerebral, complex instrumental constructions, they somehow also top their characteristic (and unheralded) heart that shone through their past works. See: touching stripped down acoustic ballads like “I Got Your Back,” or “The Middle” (“We both work all time, let’s try and meet in the middle / we were born we will die, but we’ve met in the middle”), combined with the hazy, smooth and psychedelic wanderer “House Party.”

(words: milo)

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