815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
(Soft Revolution Records; September 4, 2012)
Torquil Campbell – vocals
Evan Cranley – bass, guitar
Patrick McGee – drums
Amy Millan – vocals, guitar
Chris Seligman – keyboards
A Song Is A Weapon. So goes the title of a track from The North – the latest stunning offering from Canada’s best kept secret indie institution – STARS. And with those fighting words, STARS are back, having never gone away. Over the course of more than a decade together, STARS have consistently proven themselves adept at producing incisively sharp, beautifully orchestrated pop music. Their sixth album, The North, is no exception. In many ways, it is their finest record to date – a culmination of all they have learned and lost; a record of what it is to love today, of how to live a life in music.
The North finds STARS older, not wiser, still fighting and loving; still making music because now, more than ever, it is in their blood; it is all they know how to do. STARS have survived attacks and success, trends and life; death and drama both. They present here, in The North, plainly and honestly, a document that speaks moments to decades, inches to cascades.
Listen with an open heart. There are rewards in song, always.
Here, they count.
Widely tipped as “indie darlings” and a “band to watch” on the strength of an acclaimed EP, some high profile film and TV placements, and a series of hypnotic live shows, High Highs are set to deliver on their early promise with a debut LP in late January 2013.
Critics have embraced the four-track High Highs EP as “simply spun and exquisitely enthralling,” and singer Jack Milas’ falsetto as a “weapon of mass emotional destruction.” Milas and co-founder Oli Chang create an “unholy” blend of acoustic-guitar textures and synthesized atmospherics. The band’s signature sound has struck the blogosphere as “shimmering” and “stunning” “sun-kissed sadness.”
High Highs kicks off with “Flowers Bloom,” with its “delicate synth soundscapes [and] haunting vocal harmonies.” It also features the “sweeping” “folk-pop” of the single “Open Season,” the “gorgeous” “Ivy,” and “Horses” – which has drawn multiple favourable blog comparisons to Neil Young.
Milas and Chang began making music together as High Highs in their native Sydney, Australia, while working at the same recording studio. Chang was in another band at the time, but found himself drawn to Milas’ writing style. The pair plunged into a world of collaboration and invention. They discovered the basis of a band aesthetic by marrying Chang’s passion for electronic indie with Jack’s penchant for classic acoustic rock.
“There’s obviously a lot of scope for what you can do with a laptop and a keyboard,” Chang explained. “It’s more straightforward which palettes of sound work with acoustic guitar, drums, and voice. That helps narrow it down a bit.”
Lead vocals were a responsibility Milas initially was tempted to shirk. “I just had so little confidence in my voice,” he confessed, “and singing in falsetto was the only way I knew how to get any vague vibe out of it.” Chang concurred. “Singing in falsetto, you don’t have to be confronted with yourself,” he said. “Your speaking voice is you. With falsetto, you can become someone else. You don’t have to deal with listening to yourself.”
When Milas took an opportunity to work and live in New York, Chang soon followed. The duo settled in Brooklyn, re-committed to making High Highs music, and joined forces with drummer Zach Lipkins – who is also handling mixing duties on the forthcoming LP. “It’s awesome that Zach is a really talented producer as well as a great drummer, especially because a lot of the time the drum arrangements are really minimal and heartbeat-like. He knows how to ride a gentle dynamic wave.”
Live gigs presented the trio with a new set of musical challenges. “We had to figure out ways to get this delicate, soft music to have impact in a live kind of atmosphere,” Milas said. “We’d be going on after a heavy metal band, or a synthy pop-rock thing, and it was like we had to match that in scale, create a big sound, and cut through the noise. We realised there has to be scale and dynamics to the performance, within its small intimacy, because if it’s all too quiet and hushed and atmospheric, it doesn’t engage us or the listeners.”
High Highs played well-received gigs to expanding audiences in New York – including a packed residency at Pianos on New York’s Lower East Side – and in London to a sold out crowd at the Old Queen’s Head. Their widescreen sound meanwhile attracted the attention of college radio programmers and music supervisors alike – which landed a coveted slot in ABC’s taste-making Grey’s Anatomy, another in the hit film Pitch Perfect, and another in a heavily-rotated spot for the Amazon Kindle.
The band’s debut long player will feature EP favourites “Open Season” and “Flowers Bloom,” live standouts “Once Around The House” and “Phone Call,” and more brand new songs. Tour dates around the release date will be announced in late 2012.
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