Highasakite – Silent Treatment.
We have another contender for Light+Shade‘s Album Of The Year already, and we’re not even halfway through 2014. I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a good musical vintage.
Highasakite might not be a familiar name to some of you, but I’ve been reasonably in love with these Norwegians since hearing their self-titled 2012 EP. I caught them live at Iceland Airwaves that same year, sung along whole-heartedly to the best track from that EP, Indian Summer, and left in hope of hearing a whole lot more. Thankfully, just a few weeks ago, they delivered, and they delivered in spades.
Silent Treatment is the band’s first long-player, and while it has that certain Scandinavian air about it that so pleases me, it’s also pretty unique, largely because of Ingrid Helene Håvik’s unfailing ability to sing a song with breathtaking beauty. The compositions are excellent, too. Some are heavy on the electronics, others more on folksy banjos and accordions. Some are bright, some are sombre. There is country, jazz and pop. The rhythms vary delightfully from song to song. It’s a sweet collection, ordered perfectly, which isn’t something we often say about records in the digital age.
Highasakite formed out of the Trondheim Jazz Conservatory, like Emilie Nicolas, who I also wrote glowingly about recently. It seems to be a good place to learn the craft.
Håvik’s opening lines “Lover, where do you live?” ooze from the speakers with such breathy seduction that you’re immediately hooked. A sweeping and aching ballad follows. It’s an almost perfect start. “It would be nice to come home to a couch, and a stove, and a backyard,” she adds before calling out the song’s title again, Lover, Where Do You Live?
From this we transition into bouncier sounds. Drummer Trond Bersu’s influence becomes clearer the more you listen, too. As the co-founder and writer of the band’s music, he creates some sensational beats upon which Håvik’s vocals can bounce effortlessly. Since Last Wednesday proves the point, with a tribal flare somehow matched with folk overtones. It’s a bit Of Monsters And Men, but somehow more mature. Leaving No Traces follows a similar theme but with a Middle Eastern flavour. But it’s from track four where things really start to ripen.
Hiroshima, by far my pick of the album’s 12 tracks, is a marvellous tune. It builds gradually from what sounds like an air-powered organ into a driving, hypnotic rhythms. Brighter blips come in as we move deeper into the track, Håvik singing about carelessly walking around in Heaven having lost the Earth she so loved to human folly of the type Hiroshima became so infamous for. To that end, the wall of sound that takes the track to its conclusion is just superb. There is a stack of layers to the music by this point and it’s all quite overwhelming. But as if to save us from exploding like an atomic bomb ourselves, the blinding sounds dissipate and we’re left only with Håvik’s haunting “nanananas”.
My Only Crime follows, a lullaby or sorts, before we enter electronic-indie territory again for a rather dark track I, The Hand Grenade. Another rhythmic intro launches us into Darth Vader, a song that will certainly have crowds bouncing and singing along when this record is toured.
Iran is a cracker, very tribal again, almost like the soundtrack to an old Western, with Native American overtones throughout. Quite what it’s about is beyond me, but “I’d bring some booze, and go on a bender” is an inspired line in the context of a strict Muslim country, especially when it’s followed by “and I’ll befriend a married man”. Influences like Kate Bush pop out here, too. There are some extreme vocal gymnastics to admire.
Indians, as they became known in American, get a mention in The Man On The Ferry as we near the album’s denouement. Science And Blood Tests is another sensational demonstration of Håvik’s abilities. She almost yodels through the outro, but not in a cheesy Sound Of Music hills way. It’s more like morning birdsong. Really lovely and soothing.
We hit raw country on the penultimate When You Have Gone before the jazz that brought Håvik and Bersu together closes things out in the form of God Is A Banquet. You can imagine hearing this in a smokey club while sipping on a single malt, pained expressions on the musicians before you.
I really love this album. While only one song clearly stands out for me, the others prop it up with real strength. Listen, and enjoy. There are few bands out there with the versatility of Highasakite.