Never judge a record by its cover, but pay some attention to its title. Consider that every record is a self-portrait, and every track an expression of personal ideas and ideologies, ambitions and dreams, collectively forming a musical masterpiece. The title, whether eponymous, aspirational, political or comedic, is equally a representation of self. For proud and pioneering African-American activists Public Enemy the confrontational It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back symbolised their demand to be heard and refusal to be ignored. Both London Calling and Modern Life is Rubbish will forever cynically symbolise disenchantment and discontent. Just as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars hints at the cosmic flamboyance and eclectic eccentricity of the alter-ego of David Bowie, the eponymous debut of The Doors revealed a band who held a supreme confidence that their music needed no explanation. Simply put, a title can encapsulate an entire identity, sound or vision.
The Higher You Get, the Rarer the Vegetation is therefore a rather intriguing prospect. In quoting the words of the grandiose, flamboyant and enigmatic Salvador Dali, lyricist Laurie Hall and multi-instrumentalist Eric Drew Feldman of Knife & Fork exhibit no lack of confidence. It makes the listener expect the surreal and the unexpected. And the listener is, indeed, rewarded.
As the lo-fi, off-kilter beat of opener ‘Tightrope’ rattles and clunks and splutters into life, it seems like a false start. All until a bewildering and demented synth begins to wail, and the spectral howls commence. The tone for the album is set; every second is utterly precious. Blink, and a thousand sonic murmurs, drawled lyrics and haunted sounds blur past. ‘Chariot’ advances the exhilaration further, melodic and shrill, uncomfortable yet alluring, hazing past like a shattered blues record at the entirely wrong speed. It’s dark and dense experimental rock. Feldman exhibits sheer craftsmanship, creating a truly ingenious and unpredictable sound that fuses the raw vocals of Hall with an intensity, showmanship and distortion reminiscent of The Pixies, Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart. It’s utterly captivating.
Standout tracks ‘Nicotine’ and ‘Pocket Rocket’, both pure addictive seduction and sensuality, furiously echo PJ Harvey. Wearily transitioning from jagged punk guitars topped with dark red lipstick words into resurgent strings and down into a warped carnival ending battling onwards like a defiantly slurring jazz band; the complexity is astounding. Only after the sombre Incubus-esque warped repetitions of epic ‘The Revelator’ has whirred into the Radiohead-reminiscent funeral incantations of ‘Bury’ do you resurface, confused and curious.
Own this record. Fearfully ominous and bleak as it may be, it is startlingly beautiful, monstrously disconcerting and entirely moving. And it is very well named.
-Geraint Ellis (@geraintlellis)