The first thing you notice after putting on the stereo headphones and connecting them to your trusty cassette walkman, pressing play and letting High/Low’s wonderful 2014 album Stuck In A Void wrap you in it’s gorgeous fuzzy embrace is how warm the music feels. The songs glow, they positively radiate heat into you. Rhythmic, anthemic melodies soar over and through layers of beautifully distorted and crafted guitar riffs the whole thing riding on a dirty, thick layer of urgent, incalescent bass driving the songs through you with the ease of a sixteen wheel truck full of rubble driving through a Wendy House.
I really liked Stuck In A Void. I especially liked listening to it on tape rather than via the more clinical digital format as I wanted as much warm fuzziness as I could get and the older tech gave me just that. You can readily imagine how excited I was when pictures of Steve, Lee and Dave began to appear on social media first rehearsing and then actually recording a bunch of new songs. There was, we were assured, a new album in the pipeline. Preceded (in theory at least – my copies arrived simultaneously!) by a limited edition vinyl single called Mould, Autospy will be released tomorrow on the 29th of January.
Those of us with the clear headed good sense to pre-order have been listening to the twelve new tracks gathered together on cassette (or CD – the guys understand some folk may not be able to find their tape players after all these years) since yesterday when the postman brought them to us.
Confession time. I liked the previous album so much I admit to experiencing the merest frisson of trepidation as I popped the tape into the player and donned my Grado SR80 headphones. How, I wondered could the new album match up to it’s peerless predecessor? Would the band be experimenting with a new direction? Had they been persuaded by some devious sound engineer to add a brass section, backing vocals, glockenspiel solo in the middle 8? Had they done that awful thing musicians do and outgrown the very thing that makes them great? I’m thinking Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet here.
My finger hovered over the play button. Then, with the shrug of a man who has already paid his money, I dived in. The album kicks off with a rumbling bass and drum riff and then just soars into the title track. Literally seconds in and any doubts have been gloriously dispelled. This is unquestionably the same band. Don’t however let that suggest that they have stagnated or tried to produce Stuck In A Void part 2. There is a clear progression here.
It lies partly in the production which has managed to elevate the H/L sound to a more distinct level while simultaneously not ironing out the creases. It’s a hell of trick. How you introduce clarity and separation into a sound while keeping the wonderful chiming, warmth and cantankerous snarl which so warmed my cockles when I first stumbled across the band, I do not know, but they’ve pulled it off.
The album continues in this vein. If you like the first song you can relax, you’re in safe hands, you’ll like the rest. That isn’t to say the album is repetitive. Crumble Down is a less frenetic, more reflective song with some sinuous guitar solos and the single Mould a lighter more bouncing, jaunty affair. Let’s Run has an insistent speedball punch with some echoing guitar sounds which sent me spinning back to my wasted youth and the heavier stuff I used to listen to in the seventies and eighties.
This review is very much a series of first impressions so I won’t dissect every song – to be fair I think you’d be better off just trusting me when I say go get it yourself and listen. Special mention however must go to Thing Inside which hurls itself at you from the start of side two alternating between lovely passages of quieter instrumentation and thickly layered walls of fibrous riffage. Also Mono, which will satisfy anyone who likes their music to pull no punches but rather to thrash you into submission, and keep hitting you once you’re down. The whole thing wraps up with the frankly epic World Undone which, for my money, is High/Low at the very summit of the mountain. Imperious, ariose, assured and beautifully crafted.
Before I leave you I need to heap special praise on Dave Pankhurst. I’m sure the other two guys will be biting their plectra in half at the thought of a reviewer singling out a drummer rather than the ‘proper’ musicians but the tub thumping is the glue which holds Autospy together. Never screaming ‘Look at me’ as some drummers like to but always driving the songs where they need to go and hitting some glorious fills. The expansion to a three piece has completed the band’s sound and allowed them to progress from Stuck In A Void to Autospy without the need to experiment or try to reach for places they had no need to go.
This is a consummate follow up to a fine first album. Get it here and find out more about the band here. If you are lucky to live near enough they are playing a launch gig tonight at The Edge in Basildon, Essex doors open at 8pm and entry is free.