Saturday 21 June 2014

The High Wire - Found In Honey

Album review by KevW

Having somehow missed out on the debut album by Anglo-Canadian group The High Wire, it was their single 'Odds & Evens' that first caught my attention. What happened with that song would become a familiar pattern. After a few cursory listens it sounded like a reasonably good, slightly lo-fi indie/alt-rock song, but fast-forward a couple of weeks and a few more spins and the song had transformed into a stunningly good track that had firmly lodged itself in between my ears with no plans on leaving any time soon. It would go on to become one of my personal favourite tracks of the year. Then came album 'The Sleep Tape'. Aside from the aforementioned single, almost all of the tracks operated in the same way: they were nice enough at first, yet give them time and they transformed into an incredibly strong set (apart from 'It's No Secret', an instant classic and one of the best tunes of recent years; really, if you don't know it, you should rectify that right away).

So the London-based trio make "growers" then. In which case, their plan of releasing a handful of tracks from new album 'Found In Honey' over the last year seems like a good move. It began about twelve months ago with single 'LNOE' and, surprise surprise, despite having a neat melody, some quite fetching strings and a good arrangement, it doesn't half sound much better now than it did then (and it was great the first time around). 'LNOE' makes perfect sense as the new record's first taster; it's powerful, confident, and it employs their technique of snatching elements from a variety of genres. The big beats could be from a thudding, industrial electro-rock track, there's the string quartet, there are samples, there is drama. It's a seismic song that takes indie and dreampop and injects them with a dose of imagination that would be strong enough to earn them a drugs ban if they were athletes. Next was 'Under A Spell', and this took a similar anything goes (so long as it sounds good) approach. With a few months passed, the melody gets etched into the brain, and the electronica and chopped up beats are neatly counterbalanced by soft vocals. The High Wire are keen to have their own sound, and they duly deliver, with a killer chorus to boot. 'Still' gave us the twinkles and grandeur that we knew the band were capable of, with the chorus of voices blending dreampop with something that has more muscle, especially as the guitars and synths fire up like a machine running in the background. Softer of melody and more thoughtful with it was 'The Thames & The Tide' which held onto a little of 'The Sleep Tape''s wooziness.

Each of the singles benefits from a few plays, but each is quite wonderful, and each is firmly a track by The High Wire; they've been searching for their own sound, and if there was any doubt as to whether they'd found it, that doubt can now be put to bed. As good as that quartet of songs are, they're not necessarily the highlights. 'Last Invitation' is almost folky, until those layers of vocals and washes of strings transform it into a more substantial and majestic opening track. Alexia Hagen's vocals have become something of a trump card. Combine them with Tim Crompton's voice and the match is perfect. The slightly psychedelic 'Radio On' has a '60s vibe but with a modern sound. Again the melody and strings take it to the next level, and breaking for some scuzzy guitar gives a little more edge. It's another touch that most bands wouldn't have even considered including. The High Wire don't really conform to conventional structures as rigidly as some. This fact is emphasised again by 'Cinch' where they start off as if they're about to give us a simple acoustic number, yet before long some organ creeps in, voices appear from the mists and a thumping beat takes us away from anything as potentially "normal" as that. Bowing out with the closest they come to a rock song, '20,00 Streets' is gritty guitars and a harsher feel, or at least that's how it starts. Again, that combination of beats, voices and strings lift the track higher and this has almost become The High Wire's trademark.

The only tune not mentioned so far is 'Angelspeech', but that's just us leaving the best to last. Really, this is as close as 'Found In Honey' comes to 'It's No Secret'. The same twinkles and irresistible melodies are in place, but a more experimental, gospel-influenced R&B sound is used; on paper it sounds a bad idea, but in reality it's a stunner and perhaps the best here. Put simply, The High Wire should be much better known and more widely appreciated than they currently are. Perhaps the reason they're not is due to the fact that it sometimes takes time for the songs to really hit you and show you just how good they are, but if you're a music fan then you should afford this album that time, you definitely won't regret it.

The High Wire's website

'Found In Honey' is out on July 14th

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