Is it really such a curse to receive the praise of Chris Martin? Does supporting one of the world’s biggest bands on an arena tour constitute something to be embarrassed about? Is success off the back of somebody else’s recommendation, visit this especially when that person is about as cool as blue rinse, clinic to be played down or avoided? If you answer in the affirmative to any of these questions then chances are you’re part of that group who chose to emphasise this part of the High Wire‘s back story over more trivial things like, say, their music. I will not be doing that, because it’s asinine; anyone who thinks that success this way should only be talked about as being of questionable worth is, as far as can be determined, an ass.
What we have here in The Sleep Tape, the band’s debut album, is an assured group of songs that melds droopy acoustic harmonies with a milder form of feedback than found with bands like My Bloody Valentine (but we’re talking *really* mild here – this stuff won’t ever cause anyone to aurally hallucinate). This is not really shoegaze as I’m used to it, though it’s a record that dreams like Slowdive, or hazy-pop group Galaxie 500, or even like psych-rockers Mercury Rev in places – it’s not cruel of me, whatsoever, to say that it’s called a ‘sleep tape’ for a reason.
This is narcolepsy, this is fatigue, this is a yawn and a stretch. It is deliberately designed to be so very sleepy. It is not boring, because those things aren’t synonymous with boredom. They are synonymous with, of any single word, ‘contentment’. This record feels very content. If this summer turns out to be a hot one (and I damn well hope that it is) then I want to spend at least one night falling asleep on a beach with these songs wrapped around me.
Their opening gambit, ‘The Midnight Bell’, is a slow 4/4 drumbeat accompanied by chimes, harmonies borrowed from the Byrds and what sounds like an acoustic guitar plugged into a reverb pedal. This is the format for pretty much every song here, but it’s to the High Wire’s credit that this doesn’t tire or bore, mostly because every few songs there’s something of a change in the air and along comes a thumping tune like ‘Odds & Evens’ to break the spell. It’s the highlight track, that one, and it’s obvious why it was chosen as the lead single – whilst this is hardly radical music to terrify and alarm most listeners, it is still slightly odd by many usual standards, and ‘Odds & Evens’ is exactly the way to lure in the punters.
It’s the closest thing to rockin’ out on The Sleep Tape, but there are other highlights – like ‘It’s No Secret’, where the male/female vocal overlap really comes into its own. The refrain, “yesterday/yes, I was kissing somebody new/but my baby/I wish I was kissing you,” loops around a country-tinged ballad where it’s not sure who’s been wronged, or who wishes for a second chance. That gender ambiguity drives the dreaming, the sense of sleep – everything’s a whisper in the ear from someplace just out of sight.
As the ‘Bodyclocks’ comes around and ends the album with that same refracted nursery chime that opened it, I can safely surmise that, if the High Wire have gone from three friends to this within two years, then their next record must be eagerly anticipated. It’s just so accomplished, so pretty! I commend Chris Martin, and I recommend listening to this woozy summer package, but please – pay attention. It’s worth not falling asleep listening to this.
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