High Highs’ self-titled EP is the culmination of a formative period that has seen Australian duo Jack Milas (hushed folky vocals, subtle strumming) and Oli Chang (retrograde synth and bass) relocate to New York, acquire a drummer in the person of Long Islander Zach Lipkins, turn heads at SXSW and cover Wild Nothing, as well as playing support slots for Swedish trailblazers The Radio Dept. and troubadour Jose Gonzalez. It’s an impressive CV but, most importantly, not as impressive as the soft-pedalled meld of music they create: there’s so much in these four songs to appeal to fans of all three aforementioned artists.
From the opening crackle and chime of ‘Flowers Bloom’ to the mellifluous refrain of the EP’s closing track, theirs is a happy hush: these are shaded, sumptuous and soothing songs. From tranquil and dulcifying to eddying and elated, High Highs’ span is nebulous but always serene. Each track occupies a different spot on the spectrum – variously stimulated by synths, strings, dainty antipodean harmonies and even a celesta – but they are all united in their maudlin, pastel allure.
‘Ivy’ is wintry and warm, ably demonstrating a lyrical tendency to voice the emotional responses of the listener. “Pull me in closer”, Milas half-whispers, “pull me down in the snow”. Brrr… ahhh. Cold and cosy, he says how it sounds. Only two of the tracks actually feature the full trio, so this three-piece line-up will still have something to prove on their forthcoming first full-length – but there’s nothing to suggest they will have much trouble.
Of the elegiac quartet of songs that form this sonic cocoon, the uplifting final track ‘Horses’ is particularly splendid, a serenely easy-on-the-ears expansive step-springer that can be echoed by appreciative stomping just as much as singing along. Partly a consequence of the light-touch production, its home-made, high-rise intimacy is hard to describe. Like a less luxurious, homespun Midlake pursuing picturesque dream-folk; or a simpler, synthed-up Fleet Foxes (whichever analogy you find less off-putting), this is the sort of vintage-sounding song that sells a wistful slice of yore.
I do worry about the aspirational nostalgia fuelling dream-pop, folk-rock and the rest, which surely owes a debt to both the grimness of the age and a gradually evolved belief that the future might not be a promised land after all. If we’re too impotent to script a better time to come then why not create a perfect past? Ignore this pseudo-pyschosociology and what remains are simply-spun exquisitely enthralling EPs like High Highs; but if we spend our lives romancing the bygones and longing, salmon-like, to return to where we started then revisionism is the only way to go. Things were never this good.