Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The High Wire - The Sleep Tape Album Review (2010)

Another for Altsounds. Great promise but failed to deliver ultimately. Shame. Hope they do well and get some better songs.

The High Wire are London trio Tim Crompton, Stuart Peck and Alexia Hagen and in another time and another place the band could be described as Shoegazers. They make the kind of dreamy pop that brings together the gorgeous twin vocals of Crompton and Hagen, coupled with layered guitars and keyboards; not so much a wall of sound, more a pile of marshmallows. So a concept album centred around sleep (or lack of it as the case may be) was the obvious choice. It’s a shame that the music they make is just as obvious.

The big problem with The Sleep Tape is the overbearingly lazy (deliberate or otherwise) feel to what should be well-crafted and well thought out music. The vocal qualities of Crompton and Hagen are used to good effect but often the arrangement is not intricate enough. It is not exploited to the full; a strength that is never maximised. Many bands can be described as safe, predictable and being ‘comfortable’. The High Wire give a new dimension to the word (ironic given the band’s name which suggests risk and danger).

The best of the album is highlighted when the songs are allowed to escape the drug-addled world of soft textures and fluffy clouds. New single Odds And Evens is a great example of what the band can do. The song glides quickly from distorted buzz into vocals and swinging guitars, and it’s the vocal arrangement that stands out. The chorus, in which Hagen provides the best vocals on the album, is exquisite. The boys play their part, filling in around as the track slows before building again for Hagen to deliver a fine finale. In The Sleep Tape’s best part, this is followed by the soft vocal tones of It’s No Secret, the slick sheen slowly drifting into hazy wordlessness. And before this, Honeycomb is the best of three instrumentals, building from a slow start, delicate then sliding into a space-aged coma.

Elsewhere The High Wire show mere glimpses of this quality. Opener The Midnight Bell, with high looping strings, ambles along into quaint vocal duelling before some neat guitar work forms the last two minutes. A good solid start that is never maintained as Hang From The Lights fails to impress as early Primal Scream, New Lovers is a short Maps imitation and, in spite of a decent ending, the title track is very flat. Likewise the Lennon-esque heavy-handed country vibes of Letting In The Light and the massive A Future Ending, while offering something a bit different, never fully satisfy. The latter’s dark buzz, drums and stomping guitars blend with androgynous vocals into a shuttering uncertain guitar break. And goes nowhere.

Late on the mid-tempo waltz Pump Your Little Heart could be another single and does an acceptable job of trying to be Spiritualized, but closer Bodyclocks (the third instrumental) sounds like the band left a music box open and went for a cup of tea. Hardly inspiring or original.

So The Sleep Tape is a frustrating listen. Comparisons to other, better, bands aside, The High Wire need to avoid being dragged into the world of style over substance as this is yet another example of a band with a distinctive, hypnotic and often engaging sound that more often than not fails to connect and engage. As a band that has much more to offer, we should all hope that the best is to follow.
-- CS (for Altsounds)

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