Cascades, latest release from Brooklyn band High Highs, could be read as a nod to the group’s hometown – the coastal Australian city of Sydney, which rests against the beautiful, blue Pacific Ocean. Or it could be a nod to the record’s sound, which retains the broad scope of the group’s debut, Open Season. In reality, though, the title is a memory – a moment Jack Milas and Oli Chang remember while driving through the Cascade Mountains on tour. The song it comes from, also called, “Cascades”, is bright and expansive, silver threads of guitar laced through soft layers of synths. It builds softly and steadily, Milas’ voice swooping up to an aching falsetto on the chorus, synths pooling gently beneath him.
“The first album was intimate,” Chang says. “We were piecing together ideas in a small space with guitar and voice. With this record, we wanted to make songs that were fuller, that would fill a bigger room.” Milas puts the same sentiment more succinctly: “We wanted to have a bit more fun.” That sense of freedom rings throughout the record. On ‘How Could You Know,’ guitars streak across the background like shooting stars as Milas employs an elegant falsetto to convey longing and hope. In ‘Movement,’ vocal harmonies ripple and sway over hymn like synths; and ‘Fastnet’ is a slinking, synthetic soul song, high, beckoning vocals gliding across tiny apostrophes of guitar. Cascades is the sound of a band stretching out, writing songs that feel purposeful, effortlessly melodic and full of grace and beauty.
It’s also a record that’s representative of their backgrounds. “We wanted to make an ‘Australian’ record,” Milas says. “We’ve been living in New York, but Australia is always home.” Chang agrees. “If you go to Australia, it’s a beach country,” he says. “You have year-round summer, basically. That really influences the music.” But the way it influenced them was almost counterintuitive. The group wrote and recorded much of Cascades in upstate New York, even if their mind was elsewhere. “When you’re in New York, you write a record about somewhere else,” Milas says. “We were in upstate New York, writing a record about Australia. It’s like when Steely Dan wrote Aja in LA, but they were writing about New York.” They also drew inspiration from the music of their youth – like the Australian synth-pop band Icehouse and John Farnham’s booming arena-pop anthem “You’re the Voice.” “We were connecting with a lot of ‘80s Australian bands while we were making the record,” Chang explains. “Some of the songs come from that connection.”
Working with a drummer for the first time, Sean Hutchinson, the songs became sweeping and cinematic. “We would work with Sean to get the basic rhythmic idea,” says Milas, “then Oli would take it and make it weird.” We were just trying to distill a specific emotional feeling,” Chang says. “If you look at the page of lyrics, a lot of the syllables draw out and become part of the landscape. We treated the voice as if it was another instrument.”
“We weren’t trying to be edgy or difficult – we were striving to make it as epically beautiful as we possibly could. Hopefully when people hear it, it will make them think of something that’s important to them.” Drawn equally from High Highs’ past and present, Cascades is the record that points the way to their future.
High Highs will be touring Australia and North America early next Spring with UK dates to be announced soon.
Cascades Album Track Listing.
How Could You Know
Catch The Wind
London, After The Rain.
Ocean To City