High Places Vs Mankind
March 23, 2010
“High Places vs. Mankind is their most complete work to date, which ends much as it began, with the band’s love of outright pop.” – Drowned In Sound
“Intriguing, enigmatic and one of a kind.” – Uncut
High Places began as an experiment in collaboration: two people with diverse artistic backgrounds coming together to merge their skills, aesthetic tastes, and music-making approaches. Robert Barber grew up listening to punk and hardcore, and Mary Pearson studied bassoon performance, but both gravitated toward a DIY compositional style and a love of layers. It is the affinity for layering that has thus far defined the duo, both in ideas and instrumentation. High Places’ songs contain a fascinating range of aural layers: bells and bird calls over a wash of ocean waves; mallets hitting mixing bowls over treated guitar and glockenspiel; Mary’s reflective vocals over Rob’s homemade beats. The result is an imaginative and spacious amalgamation of sounds with a unique, almost Caribbean undertone that is as immediate as it is refreshing.
High Places vs. Mankind is the second long-playing album from Mary Pearson and Rob Barber. The title accurately suggests the album will take a slightly altered course from the “goodness as growth reflected in nature” motif of the band’s eponymous debut (Thrill Jockey, September 2008). Instead, Mary and Rob are tackling the complex, gigantic subject of being human and what it’s like to interact with other human beings. The album’s subject matter covers a wide range; from romantic relationships to overcoming addiction, aging, and finally death in the closing track “When It Comes.”
A digital single released on Halloween in 2009 entitled “I Was Born” (perhaps ironically addressing the subject of birth as a precursor to the album?) demonstrated Rob and Mary using more standard instrumentation than the two had employed in the past. In High Places vs. Mankind, guitars play an important role, and here the band has often kept them sounding like guitars. Mary’s vocals are less effected and more present. But many aspects of the High Places sound and aesthetic remain intact. One hears dance rhythms, stereo effects, accessible melodies, dub influence, and as always, a love of layering and of combining the unexpected into something cohesive and new.
In early 2010, High Places will release a second digital single and video before collecting both on a 12” that will feature additional and unreleased remixes. The band will tour North America and Europe this spring in support of High Places vs. Mankind, due out on Thrill Jockey Records on April 6th.