Recording information: Let Em in Studios, Brroklyn; The End Studios, Brooklyn.
Three years after their gorgeous, quasi-acoustic debut, Open Season, Aussie indie pop duo High Highs return with more of their ethereal vocals and wistful, patient melodies, but with a notably grander and more electronic sound on Cascades. When the first track, "Boxing," lands on its lush, pulsing chorus, it's already bigger than anything on Open Season. The new symphonic synth sounds come with more prominent yet still spare drum arrangements and more ambitious vocal layering as well. Fortunately for those already enamored by the band, remaining unchanged are the guys' trademark echoing, high-altitude atmosphere and songwriting stuccoed with daydreams. Acoustic guitars are more often than not replaced by keys and electric guitar, as on "Movement," an almost entirely mechanical work but for some earthy-sounding percussion. However, it's still quietly moving, with a simple, melodic guitar line doubled by hazy vocals and accompanied by muted keyboard chords in between Jack Milas' lead singing ("All this talking, it's been too much, she said/I feel the seasons, I feel the summer's end"). "Ocean to City" is one of the songs that trips over the fine line into new wave revivalism with its retro tones, lower-range vocals, and driving poppiness (not to mention those pretty, extended chords). Notably throughout the album, though, bigger doesn't seem to mean less intimate, as tristesse seeps through and stains all that's contained herein. Midway through Cascades, "London, After the Rain" presents itself as the one track that could easily have been on their debut, with strings and horns replacing synths for an acoustic interlude. By this time, any expectations for a more acoustic presentation will likely have been adjusted long ago for the majority of listeners -- song titles like this, the title track, and "Catch the Wind" accurately indicate that the endgame is still atmosphere and a certain amount of isolation. At this they triumph (the album ends with what sounds like a rainstick), often seeming like a next-generation Dream Academy. ~ Marcy Donelson