Review by Matt Dolan
I knew nothing about this band and our favourite search engine revealed little. Usually, I like to know some history before I settle in but hey, bluetooth the phone, pull up a kitchen chair and, once Bandcamp loads, we’ll be away.
The title track opens the album and starts slowly. The listener is gradually drawn into what sounds like a native American campfire séance but then we hurtle into a stadium rock riff, a craggy voice shotguns at me and suddenly I’ve got Ronnie James Dio fronting Reef. I listened attentively, humming along, but the thought crossed my mind amid the stirring beat: “Do we need Reef, back from wherever, dragging poor dead ole’ Ronnie with them?” Don’t get me wrong – I love RJD and I’ve paid money to watch Reef but hmm, this might be a fairly short listen.
Track 2, ‘Telephone Boof’, jarred me out of my ‘90s grunge moment with a samba keyboard intro, reminiscent of Bryan Auger. The stupid Bandcamp page must have logged me into a varied playlist. I scrolled down, sure enough – 16 tracks with unlikely-looking names. I skipped and waited.
‘La Puerta Roja’ – the fucking red door – presents with 32 bars of flamenco guitar, fetching images of cheap, Guatemalan bordellos: not unpleasant, but out of place on a rainy Sunday in Norfolk. I skipped and waited.
I couldn’t work out the theme of this playlist but the next piece, ‘Bartles & Jonestown’, brought me some 4-bar rhythm and blues and a melting vocal across trippy organ stabs. Really beautiful stuff and I decided to work out how I’d stumbled across this randomness. For the avoidance of doubt, I pulled up Spotify.
It turns out four shots of whiskey in the afternoon gets me quite pissed these days. Extraordinarily, I’d been in the right place all the time: ‘Zone of Silence’, The HighAteUs’ second album, kicks off with the strange melange of styles I described above so I poured another shot and went back to track 1.
Now those four tracks seemed to fit better together and, on the second playing, ‘Bartles & Jonestown’s’ eerie lyrics drip scorn onto the floaty guitars. I was getting creeped out. Track 5 continues the dystopian theme, but the singer revels in lockdown, sneering that he’s not a ‘People Pleaser’. By the time we hit track 6, the protagonist has decided to ‘Dose This Town’ by contaminating the local populace with enormous quantities of purloined LSD. That this is set across a haunting Spingsteen-esque lament decrying rapacious capitalism, raises the stakes: The HighAteUs don’t just go down to the river – they spike the fucking thing.
Then consider Public Service Broadcasting getting drunk with some Kentucky mountain men: that’s how track 7, ‘Punished’, starts but soon flies into a fuzz-guitar-soaked nightmare intrusion, until you start reaching for sharp implements and begin fantasising about which blade would draw most blood on which person and in which entertaining way – STOP! I suddenly realise my chair has been thrust backwards and I am standing, head-banging Angus-style, clutching my headphones, elbows swiping fleeing children.
This madness fades and is replaced by soothing piano chords forewarning of a jamboree pastiche of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ that celebrates the crack pipe. Yes, you read that right and it strikes me now that, between us, the HighAteUs and I, we’ve declared allegiance to pretty much everything from those Talk to Frank adverts. And that’s just this afternoon. I’m going to have to re-evaluate this album.
But wait…track 9, ’Computers.’ What. The. Fuck. I need more whiskey.
Imagine that Paul McCartney’s ‘Temporary Secretary’ had met Kraftwerk’s ‘Numbers’. It’d be late 1981, somewhere misty – an alley – they’re both drunk on rum and speeding. They fuck, the baby is abandoned and grows up to become this track: a staccato dirge, all syncopated shrieks and drum machines, that simultaneously excoriates yet celebrates the titular invasion into our lives. It’s a headfuck designed to take us away from all the crack and swimmy guitar chords from earlier. Wait a minute – where are those swimmy guitar chords from earlier?
A harmonica leads the breezy, bluesy ‘Total World Domination’, but ‘AssPants’ takes us back to a mire of acoustics, drum patterns and 80’s style hip-hop utterances and this craziness gets me to my feet again. In part though, it’s to put the roast in the oven.
When ‘The Thick of It’ comes in, I could be in one of Peter Gabriel’s early solo soundscapes and the swirly patterns and clavichord support the breathy, lustful words. This is the sex part of the album but don’t take too long because ‘The Devil Controls the World’ swoops in: electric piano massaging airy guitars. You can hear some Beach Boys and T.Rex too, so it’s all good.
If you left a bit back there, ‘The Thick of It’ reprises, so take another moment or two before ‘Good Friday,’ with its subtle, mediaeval licks cascading into a rock beat and the mournful ‘Funeral Procession’ round out the album.
This is one of the most extraordinary listening experiences I have had recently. Albums are meant to be played in the way their creator decided but the maxim is especially true of this record.
I’m not sure whether they have failed to decide upon a style of their own or that their influences are so broad they can’t bear to leave anyone out, either way this album is full of wonderful surprises and is stupendously brilliant.