Independent release, 2012
REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/15/2012
The brand of shoegazer music delivered by Highlands is burly and macho. For starters, the singing isn’t shy and timid, contrary to what usually is the case with the bands of this genre. If compared to an act like Catherine Wheel – which similarly leaned towards a more hard rock sound within its shoegaze framework – the vocals of Highlands don’t soften at all to reflect the tenderness of this style of music. Minus the plush reverb effects, the brawny vocals are bereft of any gentleness, and approach the music more like a grunge band than a dreamy shoegazer group.
Stylistically, the music on Highlands’ debut Singularity matches the sturdy vocals on it, as this is an album of walls of guitars packed in dense layers, more than of any prettiness created by guitar melodiousness. There is no crazy distortion or idiosyncrasies either; just heavy guitars and vocals that echo. Highlands looks like some sort of a mainstream post-grunge band in their photo and sounds too normal for a shoegazer outfit.
All of this is not to say that Singularity is not a textbook shoegazer record, though -- it actually is. Highlands reproduces the haziness of this type of music to perfection, in a way that brings back memories of the past. In fact, with the unique combination of its simpleness and layered guitars incorporating elements of modern rock, Singularity is one of the few shoegazer records that can actually be played from start to finish on commercial radio and not seem out of place.
Singularity is an easy record for most part; an album of singles, like the tracks “Railroad,” “Evil,” and “Brain Drain.” But what makes it fascinating to an extent are the elements of space-rock and neo-psychedelia that are hidden in the cloak of its apparent straightforwardness. Songs like “Waking Up,” “Sunshine,” and “Running Away” have the affection of Brit-pop acts, and share the thumbprint of The Verve in particular.
As the band likes to say, “Highlands will take any willing listener to the other side of the ominous looking-glass;” but not without a sense of comfort and familiarity; what else would one expect from a group that is a native of Long Beach, California.