High Places vs. Mankind, the third release from Brooklyn-to-Los Angeles duo High Places, is very appropriately titled. Rob Barber and Mary Pearson’s sonic creations have consistently been softer and subtler than their contemporaries, with the consequence of having created a music that is also more versatile. High Places could be dance music, it could be headphone music, it could be something to put under your pillow and fall asleep to, or it could be all of these things.
Maybe it’s because I’m high on the films of Hiroshi Teshigahara as I write this, but I keep thinking about the Japanese art of ikebana flower arrangement as I listen to this record. It seems relevant. The essence of both ikebana and this new High Places record is the resolution of nature with man and human aesthetics. While the arrangement is fundamentally artificial, all the elements in an ikebana arrangement are organic: branches, leaves, grasses or flowers. Special emphasis is placed on the forms of the stems and leaves, rather than the flower. The goal is a restrained expression of beauty composed of carefully selected natural ingredients.
High Places approach music in much the same spirit, with atmosphere and beat pushed to the foreground while vocals and melody, the most flowery elements of song, are set within a carefully arranged sonic environment. Barber’s synthesis of electronic percussion and acoustic instrumentation hews to a circular order, each song pleasantly meandering and looping. Having played the whole album about five times in succession, I can also say that High Places vs. Mankind in its entirety succeeds as a kind of loop. It wasn’t until the third or fourth listen that my attention settled on the lyrics, which are concerned with loss, isolation and escape from humanity. “It’s all gone, it’s all gone, tonight is going to be the night” croons Pearson in “On Giving Up” without mincing words about what’s been lost or what’s about to happen. There’s no need for details. High Places vs. Mankind operates on the principle of just-enough-and-no-more, so this lyrical economy feels just right. In fact, the whole thing feels just right.