2011 has been a great year for leading ladies on the East Coast indie circuit. While this talented group, including the likes of Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak, Arone Dyer from Buke & Gass and the two-headed siren duo Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius, walked into the year with a low profile, a combination vocal mastery and complimentary album arrangements have allowed all to strut into 2012 with major accolades and a steady buzz. With a couple more months remaining in the year, the front woman from Brooklyn’s North Highlands (@northhighlands), Brenda Malvini, could easily join the ranks of 2011’s list of indie it-girls with the release of the band’s full-length LP Wild One.
Albums that showcase a bands ability to construct (and deconstruct) textured layers have carved a soft spot in my heart, and North Highlands really knocked it out of the park with this release. Summoning shades of early Broken Social Scene and touches of Deerhoof and Minus the Bear, Wild One was able to balance unique cadence and timing structures with varied orchestral layers. This allowed Malvini’s band mates, particularly Jasper Berg on drums and Mike Baron on lead guitar, to showcase their technical precision without diluting Malvini’s soaring vocals.
In particular, tracks “Bruce” and “Salty” bring out an up-tempo vibe, pulsing with thick, musically astounding layers worthy of toe tapping and perked ears. Combining a myriad of finger-picked guitar and mandolin, soft claps, unique synth and Feist-esque vocals, North Highlands are nothing less than captivating.
The highlight of the album is closing track “Here’s”, which, like much of the other songs, brings just the right amount of pop, laying down a foundation with steady percussion and a bit of reverb on the lead guitar. The track steadily grows into itself, though, busting out all of North Highlands tricks — heavy keys, mandolin, guitar and the soft clap — putting on display their comprehensive musical prowess to close out the album with gusto.
Despite a small lull in the middle of the album, the overal range of the tracks, coupled with the outrageously apparent musical aptitude of the Brooklyn 5-piece, elevates Wild One from a mediocre soundtrack to one of the better releases in 2011.