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North Highlands — Wild One (2011)

Wild One Cover Art

North Highlands — Wild One
Location: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Album release: October 18, 2011
Record Label: Self-released
01. Bruce   4:20
02. Steady Steady   3:35
03. Chicago   3:16
04. Lion Heart   4:02
05. Benefits   4:04
06. Fre$ca   2:37
07. Hiking   3:26
08. Salty   3:31
09. Best Part   3:49
10. Roundhouse   5:15
11. Here’s   5:26
¶   All songs recorded and produced by Kyle "Slick" Johnson at Carriage House Studios, Connecticut, and Fancy Time Studio, Philadelphia except "Steady Steady" and "Hiking," recorded by Matt Marinelli at Exile Studios, Long Island City // Members: Brenda Malvini, Mike Barron, Jasper Berg, Andy Kasperbauer, Daniel Stewart // Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/North-Highlands/81479171900 
Mastered by Ryan Schwabe //
Press contact: 
Pitchfork: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16061-wild-one/
Bandcamp: http://north-highlands.bandcamp.com/

¶   North Highlands sounds like the kind of made-for-postcards town where David Lynch might base a murder mystery. So far as we know, Brenda Malvini thought the same. But after picking up and moving as far away as possible to attend college in Brooklyn, she still named her band after the one place she’s ever run away from. The saying goes, it’s not where you finished, but how you got there that matters. And the Brooklyn quintet’s debut LP, Wild One, is not a work of shame or regret, but a trumpet for individualism that accepts life as process.
¶   It certainly helps Malvini’s case that North Highlands are a band with very little to hide. Their instrumental palette runs wide—they regularly add mandolins, violins and pianos to enhance the standard guitar, bass, and drum patterns—but what’s so startling is how they make such involved arrangements seem so small. Wild One is a big record, but its production is packed to economy size.
¶   “Hiking” opens the record with a sharp staccato guitar riff, only to be smoothed down by a soft piano that turns the prancing song into a stroll. That momentum carries over to “Steady Steady,” where Malvini sounds like she’s guiding the band through a rolling pasture—“Not too fast, and not too serious.”
¶   Only so much of Wild One is so light and free, though. “Best Part” is stripped down and drowsy with the sobering refrain, “I’m sure somebody’s gonna break your heart, and that’s the best part.” Which is either the most bitter or most liberated outlook imaginable, depending on how much you buy into it.
¶   Malvini’s lyrics master this weeble-wobble of reactions. Her voice is soft and direct, but with an ambitious and dynamic pulse that can punch her way through a conversation on “Lion Heart” just as easily as she can coast through the watery exchange of “Fre$ca.” Her lyrics work best as a network of non-sequiturs that get tied together by the visceral context of her band. There’s a whole book of things left unsaid, but it’s preferable to leave it that way than be bogged down under the weight of it.
¶   Wild One keeps pace by cycling its energy as if documenting the highs and lows of a long road trip. The active and upbeat “Lion Heart,” “Benefits” and “Bruce” work as counterweights to the more hushed “Chicago” and “Fre$ca,” while other parts of the record manage to pack both inside a single song’s crescendo.
¶   The most anthemic of those is album closer “Here’s,” the grammar of which suggests there’s something bigger than the parts we’re shown. The communal vocals build from “This is where fun goes to die / This is where love goes to die,” to desperate shouts of “We will grow apart.” True to form, they make the whole exchange sound cheery, as if to suggest it’s only a dismal reality if you neglected fun and love before their demises.
¶   It’d be hard to blame you for feeling left out of the excitement, though. I can’t be sure how intentional the condensed production was, but you get the sense that the catharsis translates a lot more powerfully to a more communal live experience. For all the exuberant yelling and hell-raising drumming, they’ve left a fair amount of their songs’ brash energy on the production floor. And in this attempt to squeeze all of the parts together, they’ve failed to make many of them stick out independently. There’s still plenty to like about the insular production and engaging melodies of Wild One, but I can’t help but think North Highlands have a lot more to offer that doesn’t always show up here. Whatever they’re withholding, let’s hope a second effort isn’t part of it.
Review by Kyle Sparks // http://www.prefixmag.com
¶   2011 has been a great year for leading ladies on the East Coast indie circuit. While this talented group, including the likes of Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak, Arone Dyer from Buke & Gass and the two-headed siren duo Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius, walked into the year with a low profile, a combination vocal mastery and complimentary album arrangements have allowed all to strut into 2012 with major accolades and a steady buzz. With a couple more months remaining in the year, the front woman from Brooklyn’s North Highlands (@northhighlands), Brenda Malvini, could easily join the ranks of 2011′s list of indie it-girls with the release of the band’s full-length LP Wild One.
¶   Albums that showcase a bands ability to construct (and deconstruct) textured layers have carved a soft spot in my heart, and North Highlands really knocked it out of the park with this release. Summoning shades of early Broken Social Scene and touches of Deerhoof and Minus the Bear, Wild One was able to balance unique cadence and timing structures with varied orchestral layers. This allowed Malvini’s band mates, particularly Jasper Berg on drums and Mike Baron on lead guitar, to showcase their technical precision without diluting Malvini’s soaring vocals.
¶   In particular, tracks “Bruce” and “Salty” bring out an up-tempo vibe, pulsing with thick, musically astounding layers worthy of toe tapping and perked ears. Combining a myriad of finger-picked guitar and mandolin, soft claps, unique synth and Feist-esque vocals, North Highlands are nothing less than captivating.
¶   The highlight of the album is closing track “Here’s”, which, like much of the other songs, brings just the right amount of pop, laying down a foundation with steady percussion and a bit of reverb on the lead guitar. The track steadily grows into itself, though, busting out all of North Highlands tricks — heavy keys, mandolin, guitar and the soft clap — putting on display their comprehensive musical prowess to close out the album with gusto.
¶   Despite a small lull in the middle of the album, the overal range of the tracks, coupled with the outrageously apparent musical aptitude of the Brooklyn 5-piece, elevates Wild One from a mediocre soundtrack to one of the better releases in 2011.
¶   Posted on 19 October 2011 by Robby Corrado 8.3 / http://www.thewildhoneypie.com/

Benefits Cover Art

Photo credit: Adam Wissing

¶   What's so good?
¶   Brooklyn’s North Highlands has released their album, Wild One, this past week, and I’m guessing that it’s being received quite well. They’ve already gained critical praise from notable media outlets (including here on Indie Shuffle) and that was even before Wild One was released!
¶   Wild One is full of dance-worthy beats, but North Highlands also knows how to bring it down a few notches to a soothing ambience. The mix of reverberated guitar, sophisticated violin, classic piano, saturated synth, and silky yet sometimes quivering vocals makes for a beautifully orchestrated indie pop album. Some of their tunes can be considerably heart-wrenching; others can be rather uplifting and light-hearted.
¶   It’s nice to have that contrast within one album so you can experience the many facets of expressive music. Brenda Malvini explains it in a simple manner when describing the meaning of the song “Benefits”:
“It’s when you work hard your whole life and then it isn’t enough. You realize that and you just say fuck it and go dancing.”
¶   Yup, that pretty much sums it up. So shufflers, if you’ve hit a dead-end and you feel helpless and hopeless, just say fuck it and go dancing! But pick up a copy of Wild One first.
¶   By Christiana Bartolini  |  October 25th, 2011
¶   The author: Christiana Bartolini
¶   Music, holistic health, mindfulness, lots of shows, nannying, animals of sorts, creating, pyrography, harvesting food, farmer's markets, traveling, cooking, scooters, quads, the outdoors. An old soul.


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