This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go. A band that moves from Brooklyn to L.A., as High Places did around the time of their second album, High Places Vs. Mankind, is supposed to get more chilled-out, not less. But maybe the minimization of their mellowness has something to do with the fact that the duo’s airy, ethereal sound was already about as ambient and evanescent as it could get, and there was no place to go but into a more groove-based space. Whatever the reason for the stylistic shift, Original Colors undeniably represents the ambient-pop outfit’s most rhythmic recording to date. Not only is it possible to dance to most of these tracks, at times one would be hard-pressed to avoid shaking a tail feather or two.
It seems like Mary Pearson and Rob Barber must have been listening to a lot of electronic dance music lately — not the wild-eyed, manic-BPM-rate techno variety, mind you, more like the kind of thing you’d come across in the chill-out lounge in the pre-dawn hours, but decidely not ambient music. The closest indie-pop parallel to the way Pearson lays her late-night purr across Barber’s sparse, subtly kinetic beatscapes is probably late-period Broadcast minus the psychedelic influences. Once upon a time, the otherworldly clouds of sound emanating from High Places’ records made them seem like more urbane heirs to the mantle of ’90s ambient-pop heroes like Flying Saucer Attack, but Original Colors is clearly more concerned with creating sinuous, serpentine grooves than giving your head a bed to float to heaven on.
Of course, this isn’t exactly an in-your-face party record either. While such tracks as “Altos Lugares” (Yes, that’s Spanish for “High Places.”) and “Year Off” work things up to a pretty good pace, Pearson’s voice never really rises above a gentle, reserved coo, and Barber consistently resists the temptation to build to a big climax, preferring instead to let a low-key kind of tension simmer throughout. And the beatless, reverb-drenched “Twenty-Seven” sounds like it could have come off of a contemporaneous Julianna Barwick album. So while High Places have neatly avoided getting stuck in a rut on Original Colors, daring to reinvent themselves into a more motion-friendly group, fans of their first couple of albums should still find the overall mood sufficiently low-key to provide easy access.