The High Violets are high on the obscurity radar, even as far as Myspace bands go. However, the Portland band stands apart from many of its dream-pop contemporaries through its marriage of the right mixture of bite and beauty. To Where You Are is a potent little album that raises quite a bar above its bland name.
There’s some respectable guitar work on this disc. Clint Sargent knows how to make a telecaster howl like a razor-encrusted dog in heat. His wailing distortion and powerhouse tremolo give the music a necessary punch to elevate it above the general collage of four-piece indie acts. “Love is Blinding” hits that spinal nerve that causes your extremities to tingle with involuntary joy. Its merciless guitar attack and thick bass charge like a Panzer division. Be prepared to stick this one on repeat for the next few hours.
The band’s vocalist, Kaitlyn ni Donovan is rooted in 1980s dark pop melodies like Aimee Mann’s work with Till Tuesday more than in the angsty power pop of the 1990s. She can provide her own harmonies adeptly and also churns out some pretty flash riffs. Spinning a mix of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation flangy guitars, she knows how to choose her influences. The rippling bass lines from Aaron Overstreet punctuate the clean strums and give them wings. The three-note hopscotch riff from the opening of “Nocturnal” could have sounded right at home on The Pixies’ Doolittle. In fact, the whole track has the dynamic of the famed Boston rockers, with Joey Santiago leads and Kim Deal bass. ll that’s missing is the brimstone vocals of Black Francis. It’s a nice little instrumental intermission, with Donovan’s wailing backing vocals rising and falling like a sine wave.
The High Violets’ crunchiest songs closely resemble a similar obscure ensemble of the 1990s called Medicine. Loud, twisted effect guitars in the style of My Bloody Valentine mixed with the lofty harmonies of a dreamy female vocalist. The same’s true on To Where You Are and it sounds damn good. “Invitation” opens with bright oscillation of Donovan’s guitar, with a flange glaze and Sargent’s plaintive leads that sound like sorrowful birds in a gray spring. Donovan’s vocals are oddly close to late-ninetees Lilith Fair-ites like Sarah McLachlan on this track, with their distance and breathy quality. Sargent digs it in deep on his solo, adding a gravity that pierces everything else like a needle.
Though The High Violets hit their apex on their power-rock tracks, there’s plenty here for everyone. “Cool Green” sounds like Ray of Light-era Madonna with its electro-vibraphone congas and Kaitlyn ni Donovan’s warped angel vocals. She oscillates smoothly between jaded speech and lofty sustains in this danceable track.
The High Violets may never break out of the indie arena, but they certainly make an impression on To Where You Are. This one’s a keeper.