Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on The Highfields, an indie pop rock duo hailing from Los Angeles that consists of Nate and Kaelie Highfield. Since their inception in 2011, the collaboration has worked on a variety of projects combining indie, punk, electronic, and pop musings together. The result is a lovely, cohesive sound that’s entirely unique to The Highfields. They’ve got the first collection of their new double EP project up for release shortly, and thus, let’s delve into those songs.
In this review, we’ll be exploring ‘She Said,’ a six song EP that’s centered around Kaelie’s vocals. ‘He Said’ will soon follow, an EP with a focus on Nate, and ultimately, the two will merge together as ‘She Said. He Said.’ It’s actually quite a brilliant idea, and reminds me somewhat of She and Him, another duo that toys around with the dichotomy between their genders in their music. The first song on ‘She Said,’ entitled ‘Good Vibes,’ is also the single for the EP.
‘Good Vibes’ is perfect single material. It’s infectious, punchy at just over three minutes, and anthemic in nature. It’s the kind of pop tune that’ll get stuck in one’s head for weeks upon hearing it a few times. The electronic-infused atmosphere backing The Highfields and Kaelie’s lead performance is fantastic, too, and ‘Good Vibes’ is most certainly a summer song. This is the tune you’ll want to blare out of the car stereo on the way to the beach this season.
‘That Feelin’ is equally catchy, though somewhat instrumentally superior than its predecessor. There’s a lot going on in the backdrop of this track: eclectic percussion, synthesizers, funky bass, hand clapping, and some fantastic brass instrumentation. ‘That Feelin’ is a picture perfect example of what I like to call “smart pop” here on the Independent Spotlight. Sure, it’s bubble-gum pop music, but it’s remarkably well produced and performed. It's intellectually composed. That’s an art unto itself.
The diversity of ‘She Said’ and its sonic palette only expands on ‘All Eyes On Me,’ one of the EP’s best, most lovable tracks. From the explosive, soulful production and vocal harmonies to the gospel-esque call and response toward the end of the track, ‘All Eyes On Me’ does exactly what it purports to do: call attention to itself. It’s absolutely brilliant; Kaelie’s swagger is undeniably wonderful.
‘Beauty’ is one of The Highfields’ better forays into lyrical subject matter, arguing that beauty “isn’t only skin deep.” The soulful jaunt is soaked in atmospheric, reverberated synthesizers and drowning beats. It’s an excellent reprieve from the upbeat style of its predecessors, showcasing yet even further diversity throughout Kaelie’s collection of songs.
The only song on ‘She Said’ that feels somewhat unnecessary is ‘Wild Side.’ There aren’t any moments of instrumental splendor like the songs before it. There aren’t any revelations that the song is more than bubble-gum. ‘Wild Side’ feels somewhat kitschy and unoriginal in the shadow of more intriguing tunes the likes of ‘Good Vibes’ and ‘All Eyes On Me.’ (Also, it’s pretty hard to reappropriate the term “walk on the wild side” in such a joyful, carefree arena. Sorry, but Lou did it better.)
Oddly, though, ‘Wild Side’ isn’t the only song on the EP that oddly attempts to revitalize a recognizably classic lyric. The album closes with ‘Express Yourself,’ a song that’s certainly no Charles Wright track. The sentiment is similar, I suppose, but the lyrics and production do wander into some generic territory. Wright can get away with the repetitive nature of the lyric because of the funkiness of that song. This is much less sincere, making it feel more void of emotion. The fast-paced beat is solid, however, and it’s a finale still worth taking a listen to.
The first four tracks of ‘She Said’ are a masterpiece of an indie pop rock record in the contemporary landscape. They’re fun, inventive, and very well produced and performed. The final two songs aren’t quite as strong, almost to the point where ‘Wild Side’ in particular could have been left out of the sequence entirely. It’s still an excellent EP worthy of taking a good listen to if you’re fan of pop music, however, and it means 'He Said' should be on your radar, too.