Review Summary: “All I’m ever going to do is send shivers down that spine of yours.”
For a while now I’ve been trying to pin down exactly what it
is about this charming band from Norway and their mysterious appeal. Their live shows have become increasingly grandiose – replete with choir-like harmonies, hefty percussive rhythms and gorgeous ethereal melodies. Silent Treatment
reproduces this sound, however with added balance and focal points. Apart from being possibly the only artist to cover Bon Iver better than Bon Iver does Bon Iver, Norway’s Highasakite have a unique niche to acclaim to – there are shades of pop here, as well as orchestra-like compositions, but really Highasakite, two records in, have a sound they could completely call their own.
After one glance at the album’s cover, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is singer-songwriter territory. It does at time sounds so – ‘I, the Hand Grenade’ in parts sounds like something off a Regina Specktor record, while ‘Man On the Ferry’ has a Laura-Marling-esque feel to it. Lyrically, the album is as challenging as it endearingly simple. Vocalist Ingrid Helene Håvik sings with a character that is hard to identify, but mesmerizing so. A lot of the songs here use a conservative nod to song structure, but with a desire to tell a story with a cute, star-gazing design to it. On the track Hiroshima, for example, Håvik sings “But when I pop my head up in Hiroshima / Heaven is just like earth only upside down /And I carelessly walk around /I carelessly walk around,” Only to drop us into a endlessly catchy ‘na na na na na na.’ The song has all thematic hallmarks of Arcade Fire’s Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), a song similarly jejune in nature; yet Håvik indulges more of it, quite literally describing that simple, child-like wonder at digging a hole and wondering if you’ll end up in China.
That’s all before describing the band itself - a band that isn’t so much calculating as them being diligent and assiduous in their production. All the songs here are very well structured, balanced and executed. Highasakite play it smart – they know when to bring in the xylophones and horns for the more playful parts of the album and when to softly backdrop Håvik’s lofty vocal melodies. Apart from Håvik’s unique voice, the band’s biggest asset might just be how well these songs can be considered both big stadium orchestra pieces or intimate ambient odes.
is largely an album built upon big, ambient-textured plateaus - the absence of a more guitar driven sound allows the band to transition parts in a more serene fashion. The best example of this, ‘Science and Blood Tests’, is a jaw-dropping statement of the band’s ability, it’s ethereal chorus punching well above the band’s weight. Or take the ecstatic visceral chorus of ‘Iran’, a song that emphasizes the value of having backing vocals (something that features heavily on a lot of Highasakite’s tracks). Vocal flexibility is a card played often by the band, even where the songs seem to move in different directions aesthetically. In some parts Håvik sings to texture the music, for example Iran’s chorus or the 3am-slow-burner-bonus-track, ‘God is a Banquet’. Perhaps what they all have in common are the almost-nonsensical lyrics written by Håvik, who seems to temper something political but never overtly does so.
There is one exception to this rule: the cunningly placed album opener - Lover, Where Do You Live? Diving straight into a sombre longing for partnership, the song’s sincerity really hits a nerve on an emotion that is beyond the music itself. Perhaps this is what I was looking to describe about the band all along, only the band does it much better and much more endearingly so. Silent Treatment
is an ode to the ability to tell stories simply and naively that the core emotions behind them translate much further than words themselves could wish to produce. Håvik even explicitly mentions so: “All I’m ever going to do is send shivers down that spine of yours.”