Recording information: Hall of Justice, Seattle, WA (08/2014); The Studio, Springfield (08/2014).
Unlike the easygoing, home-recorded Fly by Wire from two years prior, The High Country was recorded by engineer Beau Sorenson (Superchunk, Bob Mould) in Chris Walla's Hall of Justice studio, where Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin turned up the guitars and kicked up the tempos for their lively fifth full-length effort. With band co-founder Tom Hembree back on bass, the band's original lineup of Philip Dickey, Will Knauer, and Hembree made an evidently conscious effort to pick up the energy on their twee-leaning tunes, and it pays off with an album that, with only one of its 11 songs over three minutes long (and just barely), blows by like a frozen custard cone on a hot day. There is just as much emphasis on melody and band-defining sweetness here (as evident on the Partridge Family-reminiscent "Full Possession of All Her Powers" and its chorus of na-na-nas), but a burlier, feedback-peppered attack and busier drums than ever make for a notable development that's more Breeders than Shins this time around ("Trevor Forever," "Song Will," "Total Meltdown"). Even the reverbed ballad "Madeline" begins and ends with an insistent low drum, as if to emphasize the drums' presence. The album opens with driving, fuzzy guitars and feedback on the infectious "Line on You," with singer Dickey's airy and youthful voice still singing mostly about romance ("I got a line on you, my love"). Really catchy guitar hooks mark this song and others, though there are moments of hazy, droning dream pop ("What I Won") and pulsing punkiness ("Trevor Forever") in the mix, too. As a whole, The High Country is satisfying fare that anyone who found SSLYBY's previous works a little too light in texture will certainly want to give a spin. ~ Marcy Donelson