Despite being from sun-soaked Malibu, California, dream-pop duo High Tides bear close sonic resemblance to chilly Scotland’s Boards of Canada, with both pairs creating densely saturated synth melancholia. But if Boards music were a color palette, its hues would be cold cobalt blues and greys—High Tides’ music, on the other hand, glitters like warm red, orange and yellow sunset beams resting on ocean waves, almost too bright and beautiful to stare at for long.
Warren Kroll and Steven Lutes have chosen appropriately-dated vintage synth and drum-machine gear to produce what feels like the soundtrack to a lost '80s surf movie shot on a cheap camcorder. Their distressed gear seems to be laboring and overheating as it creates golden chords and simple, brittle drum rhythms—but this production approach suits this clever Balearic/chillwave fantasy, steeped as it is in nostalgia and gossamer melodies. Tracks like “7 Mile Beach,” “Sunware” and “Blurring My Day” seem to be explicit references to the mood here: long, hot days spent drifting in and out of daydreams, lying on baking sands, cooled by gentle trade winds from the west.
That’s not to say High Tides’ compositions lack any mystery. The vocals on “Psychic Love Damage” evoke loss and longing, but are utterly buried under undulating synth pads and eerie vocal effects. A bit less elusive but still intriguing, “Ripped Tide” uses filters to a nearly psychedelic degree, pulling and shaping the instrumental analog waves into a voluminous churn, just listening feels a bit like being pulled effortlessly out to sea.
“Coastal Cruise ‘86” is a bit more obvious, the title hinting at a top-down-convertible-Karmann Ghia ode to John Hughes high-school days. Only “Face Breakout” takes the sun-exposure, summer-break concept a little too far—t’s an awkwardly arranged synth-pop melange with a saccharine aftertaste. But that’s only a minor detour in this otherwise smooth and satisfying journey.
It’s hard to ever imagine Boards of Canada putting out a romantic album. But we don’t have to imagine it, because High Tides have made it. Their conceptual self-titled album perfectly evokes teenagers in the throes of love on an endless summer afternoon. Who wouldn’t want to be there?