If there’s anything to be learned since the advent of the drum machine, it’s that what you lack in musicians must be compensated by a healthy imagination. Alan Vega and Martin Rev made some of the coolest and most frightening music in history with just organ and canned beats, while Public Enemy made sampling into a weapon. More recently, Panda Bear crafted a life-affirming, meditative masterpiece out of hypnotic samples and gorgeous loops. Count Brooklyn’s High Places among the select few to have made electronic loops into a transcendent form of pop music, with their new compilation 03/07-09/07, recently reissued by Thrill Jockey, displaying a warm and fuzzy kind of pop, made surreal and thoroughly gorgeous.
Having been compared to the likes of both Panda Bear and Beat Happening, High Places bounce in a space between Noah Lennox’s Wilson-esque psychedelic loops and Calvin Johnson’s lo-fi jangle pop brilliance. With the tracks on 03/07-09/07 being pulled from the duo’s debut seven-inch and various compilations, there’s a spread in fidelity from fuzzy to fuzzier, though the static-draped sound comes off more like the crackle of a vinyl recording than the distorted onslaught of Times New Viking’s Rip It Off. And yet there’s a sparkle and a glimmer to Rob Barber’s dream-like melodies, offsetting the home recorded feel with a glimpse of a more brilliant sheen.
Mary Pearson’s voice is the perfect companion to Barber’s melodies, her charming, reverb-laden vocals just light and airy enough to float in the same atmosphere as a bouncy, exotic trip like “Head Spins (Extended Version)”. Her lyrics are odd and whimsical, often evocative of animal characters, as she sings about Martians having picnics and how “it’s hard out in the desert when you’re just a little duck” on the outstanding “Sandy Feat,” which is part Caribou and part Os Mutantes. Likewise she serenades a “hermaphroditic little fling” on “Banana Slugs/Cosmonaut,” which becomes a billowing cluster of looped voices, and ultimately a spectacular throb of beats and childlike, sing-song vocals. On “Greeting the Light,” Pearson nearly blends into the ambient, psychedelic scenery, orbiting in a cosmic exercise of reverb and dense layers, while at less than two minutes long, “Granola” is an instrumental shake that bleeds into the similarly tribal and fun “Freaked Flight.” And, to put it simply, “Jump In (For Gilkey Elementary School)” is just exquisite.
High Places keep things fairly understated; a few layers of melodically trippy samples, some sweet and instantly lovable vocals, some exotic beats, and some fantastic songs are born. But Mary Pearson and Rob Barber possess one more important quality—imagination. Just as a child can create a wonderful new world from paper hats and some cardboard, so too can High Places erect beautiful new creations out of just a few simple elements.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.