A few months ago, I had the pleasure to visit the Scottish highlands. Of the many interesting places, one that caught my attention was the ski resort in Aviemore. Even if the surrounding area of the hotel was more or less “modern”, the resort itself looked like it was trapped in a time warp, half 80’s comedy, half Soviet-era condominium.
The best thing was the sights. The never ending green fields clashing with the tall trees and the protruding rocks. Did you know the Scottish Highlands are one of the least populated areas in Europe? Sometimes, when the time is right, you can hear the wind blow in just the right way, like musical notes droning in one big reverberated sound.
So is the sound of Highlands on their very shoegazey (and sparsely psychedelic) album, Singularity. 7 meticulously made tracks, all heavily drenched in an aural attack that overwhelms the senses. Kinda like being trapped under an avalanche of feedback.
In a very stylish yet punk manner, ‘Railroad’ opens the album, where the air-like atmosphere is only kept on the ground by an overdriven guitar and a suspiciously hidden bass that you won’t hear the first time, but then you will and it cannot be unheard. Bass-driven opening songs are always a plus.
The intensity (and speed of sound) of the first track is abandoned afterwards. ‘Waking up’ is like those daydreams you have when you doze off after a night of crap sleep, with otherworldly sounds (hint: it’s the intoxicated guitar just showing off, painting an excellent mural). Really enjoyed the drumming in this one (especially on the best psychedelic bridge that Highlands offers to you). ‘Evil’ might be slower than ‘Railroad’, but it’s way meaner: heavy attitude, a heavy use of tambourine and, God almighty, that stylish shoegaze guitar that makes the goosebumps go wild.
‘Sunshine’ is still shoegaze, but its form (and facial features) are more of the psychedelia race of space people. No more standing with one foot on the earth and one on the air, this is full lift off. ‘Running away’ is possibly the undisputed champ, from the elegant fade-in that feels like a film with an in media res shocker of an opening to the feedback heavy ending, the utterly beautiful sounds that Highlights achieve here are simply phenomenal. What are these fellas drinking back in Cali? Give them an Amoeba Records gift card and an In-n-out burger, they are doing a superb job.
The end is near. ‘Nightmares’ lives up to its name, when shoegaze stops being so poetic and all its wistfulness becomes moroseness. Is there are a reason for the sudden mood? Who knows, but it works and it’s proof that “the scene that celebrates itself” branches out just beautifully. ‘Brain drain’, the long goodbye. The song is like that moment when you really want to say goodbye to someone, but the last ideas and conversation pieces still pop out, holding to dear life, making you say “goodbye” more times than you need. You might get a hug and somehow, deep in your soul, you fear a meeting like this won’t happen.
Maybe it will. In the meantime, that was an impressive offering of shoegaze (and a delightful conversation). And the Scottish Highlands are still a major beauty. Take a bow, Highlands, this is the way it should be done.
Words: Samuel J. Valdes Lopez