Ambitious synth anthems for those who like the darker side of pop.
Highasakite seems to be moving into another gear of shapeshifting. The Nordic indie-folk band started out as guitars with some synths over 10 years ago and now there are barely any guitars in sight. The band is now largely a duo but one thing that stays the same is the singer and frontwoman Ingrid Håvik. Harnessing her voice and the dark synth-pop styles of quiet verse and explosive chorus, “Mother” sees Highasakite in a pivot of sorts.
For someone whose been on the ride since the beginning, synths were always part of the band’s sound but “Mother” completes the transition to full electronica. Drums are no longer acoustic and most of the vocals have a huge vocoder treatment or multi-layered approach. The synths are wide and harsh, mixing up 80’s new romantic pop and some seriously vintage ABBA electric piano and power ballads. Borrowing from Imogen Heap there’s a vocoder only piece “Under the Same Sky”.
Standouts are when Highasakite move away from an oddly mid-tempo heavy sound. “Love Him Anyway” is chipper and uptempo. Full of tom drums, quirky vocal quips and a background Gloria Estefan sheen with a sound machine hiding underneath the synths. “Keep It Alive” is a power ballad for robots that builds up over time like a cloudy sky. It’s one of the few tracks where guitars seep in for an electric ballad finale and it just suits the duo perfectly. “I Just Moved Here” and “Mother” are sludgy mid-tempo anthems that hang off of Ingrid’s delivery. Her vocals are so amped up in the mix with layers and treatment that she’s like a synth herself. The production wisely switches between her and the instrumental melodies rather than have a titanic battle. The issue is that taken individually, each song feels and sounds memorable but the vocal “oohs” and “whoops” appear in almost every song and so as an album, it oddly diminishes each other’s shine.
There are a couple of odd choices too. “Autopsy” is a ten-minute dance number that feels wildly out of place compared to everything else. The first four minutes feel like a fully formed song and then we have a six-minute instrumental outro that feels very standard Sash! circa 1998. Similarly, “Can I Come Home” is a synth orchestration that feels disconnected from the rest of the album too. It is the grande closing piece as is a fine track full of symphonic string flurries and ethereal coo’s and flutey synths – it just feels at odds with a ten-minute dance piece. A far better example of ballad power is the complex and excellent “So Cold” which merges a lot of the last ten years of Highasakite into five minutes of intrigue and drama.
It sounds odd to say but I think I like the songs better individually than as an album. They try to out bellow each other and the production rarely allows time to pause and move on. This may be something specific to me but I’ve also noticed this album’s production has triggered a couple of headaches! Now I largely play the songs around other artists or previous albums from Highasakite to stop that happening. For me, this album hit better than “Uranium Heart” but it hasn’t quite returned to the supreme levels of their first three albums.
Recommended track: Love Him Anyway
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