High Places: Escaping the City

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Brooklyn duo High Places came alive in the summer of 2006 when solo musicians and email friends Rob Barber and Mary Pearson decided to go on tour together. Almost immediately, the Philadelphia native and the girl from Kalamazoo, Michigan began fusing themselves into one band. “We just realized our songs fit together really well,” Barber states from a café in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

As it turns out, theirs is a rare, fruitful collaboration that harmoniously balances each bandmembers’ musical skill and aesthetic approach. Both make visual and aural art–Barber with formal art training under his belt and Pearson with a background in orchestration. “It’s refreshing to work with someone who’s not trained,” Pearson says of the pair’s dynamic. “People that don’t have [musical training] often have more creative ideas, because [they ’re not] burdened by over-thinking things.”

The notion of assembling found materials is key to High Places’ sound. Taking its cues from the field-recording techniques of global pop ethnographers Sublime Frequencies, the band uses humble tools–the laptop’s built-in microphone is their main recording device–to create reverb-heavy sound collage. Calling this process “audio scrapbooking,” the group tweaks their mixes–which might include the crumpling of paper or the hum of a garbage truck–into melodies above which Pearson sets her lilting vocals. The result, which simultaneously recalls dub and the primitive indie rockisms of Beat Happening, is at turns haunting and cheerful; the band’s use of non-traditional instruments and ethereal qualities often draw comparisons to Atlas Sound (Bradford Cox is a fan) and Panda Bear.

Though the purely platonic duo resides in Brooklyn, their music sounds decidedly non-urban. Barber says the rural, perhaps even beachy vibe is intentional. He concurs that High Places’ songs like “Head Spins” and “Banana Slug/Cosmonaut” are escapist, and says he “loves getting out of the city as much as possible.” And while the band’s initial recordings might come off as precious–“Someone might say, ‘My girlfriend would really like this!’” jokes Pearson–their live show is a different animal altogether. Taking inspiration from acts like Black Dice and Lightning Bolt (with whom the group are friends), High Places strives to funnel all of its multilayered sounds into one swell of noise. “[We’re] usually three times as loud as the other bands we open for,” Barber tells us.

Having found increased exposure after critical acclaim for 03/07–09/07, an online collection of vinyl-only releases, the band has a jam-packed fall ahead of them. Following recent appearances at France’s Midi Fest and the Pitchfork Music Festival, and dates with L.A. bands No Age and Abe Vigoda, they recently hit Europe, opening for Deerhunter. And after going label-less up until now, Barber and Pearson have signed with Chicago avant-rock imprint Thrill Jockey, who will release their debut LP in late September. What better time than autumn to drench yourself in sunny reverb?