On their self-titled debut, High Places revealed a knack for crafting atmospheric yet warm dance music, “tropical shoegaze” if you will. On their new follow-up, Vs. Mankind, the group attempts to streamline that sound towards the dance end, in the vein of School of Seven Bells, YACHT, and, um, Everything But the Girl, with diminished returns. The sonic shift, however subtle, renders High Places a completely different, less interesting band.
Not that Vs. Mankind is necessarily bad. It could have been much worse. And to be fair, this record will probably appeal more to a certain demographic than High Places ever could. Nineteen-year-old hipster girls are going to love this album for four to six months before pirating, I don’t know, whoever supersedes the Dum Dum Girls. But without all the hazy, swirling murkiness of High Places, Vs. Mankind sounds a bit boring.
What we have here is a band that worked because of their use of effects, not the dexterity of their playing. These songs are now comparatively naked, and there’s just not enough going on to keep the compositions standing. This is dance music for sleeping.
There are exceptions to this ruling, of course. “On Giving Up” is a club-worthy electronic number reminiscent of Justice or Röyksopp. The strutting beat and playful hooks demand that this tune score an iPod commercial. If the album’s other nine tracks sounded like “On Giving Up,” it would be the Party Record Dancethon Sex Jam of 2010.
But that is not how the record is arranged, which is why I need to fall back on Prince for my Sex Jams. Vs. Mankind shows some interesting ideas, like on the factory assembly line-sounding beat of “On a Hill in a Bed on a Road in a House,” but overall, the album is another lifeless dance record for the indie set. Next time, fewer sonic collages like the formless “Drift Slayer;” more Sex Jams. Thank you.