I remember reading some of the buzz from the blogosphere about the anticipation of The High Wire’s debut album, “Sleep Tape” (7 March 2010 digitally worldwide, 8 March 2010 on CD in the UK, import in the USA). I am always weary of “the buzz” about upcoming debut albums, especially when I have not seen the band live myself. All I knew about the band and upcoming album was that they were heavily influenced by dream pop and shoegaze, and that Rik Simpson gave the band some cues for how to self-produce the album – and what better person considering his production work with Blur, Coldplay, and Portishead. And this self-production was also a cause for my own weariness; most nascent bands are still growing into their sound, not to mention learning their ways through the technical aspects of a studio and studio tricks, that taking on production duties can be overwhelming. Though I think albums are usually at their best when co-produced by the band (or even self-produced after gaining experience), this was a bit out of sorts when it comes to what makes good albums. “Sleep Tape,” however, lives up to the buzz and demonstrates that with singular vision a band can self-produce an exciting debut album.
When I say exciting, though, I do not mean the jump-out-of-your-seat-and-get-ready-to-party kind of excitement. I find the album exciting in the sense of it really taking two genres of music I love (dream pop and shoegaze) and melding them together in an enrapturing concept album about the lack of sleep (I myself am a bit of an insomniac). Though the album has a powerful undertow to it, it is a breath of fresh air in the sense that there is no attempt to make this a tantalizing pop album or an upbeat, ready for festivals fair. The High Wire sticks to their guns on this album, and produce an album that captures a mood (and moment) that is elusive and difficult to pinpoint. The album, for the most part, is very sedate and brooding. What really stand out are the double layers of the guitar playing and vocals. For instance, in “Odd & Evens,” the lead single, the traditional distorted shoegaze guitar is complemented with crisp acoustic strumming. It is an approached used in a few songs, including the titular track, “Sleep Tape,” and “A Future Ending.” The later is a haunting track. “A Future Ending” really borders on being a distorted, muddled dirge.
But really what will catch your attention are the vocals: the harmony of a male and female singer. Both Tim Crompton and Alexia Hagen are strong vocalists. And when singing together, unlike other male/female pairings in indie rock, there is a sense that they are singing together, not just going through the motions of uttering the same words. There is most definitely a strong passion emoting from their combined vocals. When they sing “New Lover” (“Yesterday, yes I was kissing someone new, but, my baby, I wish I was kissing you…”), you feel the sincerity of both Crompton and Hagen singing from the heart. It is not often that vocalists can consistently sell their lyrics, but in this case you have two vocalists who consistently sell their lyrics. You will never find a moment on this album when you think to yourself that they are just going through the motions. And when you consider how powerful the music is with the vocals, you are doubly amazed when the band is able to pull off powerful instrumentals as well. Not the kind of mini-songs between tracks that highly annoy me most of the time, but rather fully developed instrumentals. This includes the final track of the album, “Bodyclocks,” which is best described as the moment one finally falls asleep and starts to dream – there is no better way the band could have chosen to close the album.
Now I will admit that I am not ready for a 90s revival (no surprise there), but if dream pop and shoegaze are going to make a comeback and sound this sweet, I say bring it on! Far from cranking out the sounds of old bands like Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, or Ride, this brand of dream pop / shoegaze is relevant in 2010 as the veterans' sounds were a decade or two ago. Just as the original shoegazers defiantly rejected the antics of grunge and Britpop, The High Wire rejects the clichés and expectations of the indie rock scene and festival ready bands. “Sleep Tape” may not be consumer-ready, bubbly indie rock (which is a good thing!), but it is the most refreshing album of the year thus far.
1. The Midnight Bell
2. Hang from the Lights
3. New Lovers
4. Sleep Tape
6. Odds & Evens
7. It’s No Secret
8. Letting in the Light
9. A Future Ending
11. Leave Me In Love
12. Pump Your Little Heart
Keep up with The High Wire at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Though there is no video for the second single, “The Midnight Bell,” posted, here is a stream from their YouTube channel: TheHighWireUK.