Saturday, 6 September 2008

High On Stress: That Difficult Second - Or A Brave New Voice?

Something about High on Stress's new album 'Cop Light Parade' makes me think of Wilco's 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'. Maybe it's the similar corporate building detail cover shot, maybe it's the sometime throwaway delivery present on some songs, maybe it's the feeling that like Wilco's album, nothing really hits you square between eyes on first listening. Maybe too, there's some kind of irony at work that I've completely missed? Anyway you look at it, there ain't no doubt that this album is what we used to call 'a grower'.

That's no bad thing - you won't be over this baby in one play. Its tantalizing intrigue will keep you coming back for more - ensuring repeat playability. Vocalist Neil Leet leads the band into slight Anglophilia with his playful swagger and Jaggeresque dulcet tones, particularly on the third track "White Sugar". Then again I even detect a little Graham Parker in this laidback blusey country honk, reminiscent of Parker's similarly titled "White Honey". However maybe that's because Parker's dominantly ex-'Brinsley Schwarz' back up band evoke the same kind of understated instrumental interplay Nick Lowe's old crew gave their taste challenged audience (raised on Prog and Space Rock) back then.

The title track gives way to the wryly named "Abby Rose". However the first track to force this writer to wake up and take notice is #5 - "Table 8 in Queens" which begins with a familiar Neil Young type lope, but soon shifts to a short shuffle-like chorus. Great lyrics about divorce, in an understandable moment of near despair, Leet utters the classic immortal line: "Rock 'n' Roll can kiss my ass, it never saved anyone" Now, that's down, Neil - I hope you're over the hump that inspired that piece of ironic perfection?

"We Could Have Been Nobody" has a lovely harmony in the chorus which stays with you long after the album is over. Much of "Cop Light Parade" recalls one of Rock's other great hard-to-categorize-misfits 'Green On Red' and track #7 "Rhode Island" is no exception. For me it suggests the legacy of those LA troubadours most strongly than anything else here.

"My White Pages" (another cool rock pun) most recalls fellow Minnesotans 'The Replacements'. This is one of the best tracks on the album and grows with each play.

"Trample With Care" (yes, another groovy rock pun!) has a nice call and response chorus that further seems to occupy that Jayhawks/Wilco, sometimes WhiskeyTown vibe that pervades the whole album.

"Partner in Crime" most closely resembles that 'Gram Parsons/Stones' "Wild Horses" influence and is one of the definite stand outs of the entire album.

The final song, a postscript almost anonymously overlooked as "Track 12" or "Awakened By The Night" as it really should be called, draws a picture of a disappearing America swallowed up by endless out of town shopping malls and disaffected youth. For me, this is one of the best songs on this sophomore effort and should be elevated to greater prominence - however it is an excellent closer, so maybe not!

"Cop Light Parade" certainly veers towards the indie side of Alt-Country Rock. Sometimes I yearned for the cry of a pedal steel or the hint of a blue yodel but this isn't where these guys are coming from. The music is stripped down, bare and honest. Nobody could accuse them of ELO/Queen/U2 over indulgence - there's a truth, a blue collar, workman-like delivery that requires repeated plays to settle in the conscious.

Gone are the hooks, bigger instrumentation and instant appeal of songs like "Cash Machine" and "Harris County" from the first album. Yet this isn't a typical second album career flat-spot, just a brave alternative voice. Maybe a little fairy dust here and there will not go a miss next time, but for now "Cop Light Parade" will do just fine.
Mr Qwerty

Sample High On Stress here with title track from the new album "Cop Light Parade" and a choice track from their first album 'Moonlight Girls' called "Eyeliner Blues"

More can be found on their MySpace site
Short samples of each track from their first album can be found on their old official website here

Our last 2 part post seemed an unpopular move, but we imagine this was because there was a week between Part 1 and 2. Not so this time. We have an interview with High On Stress, it's already to go, but we'll publish in a couple of days to avoid blogpost overload!

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