In a world overrun with slick marketing, PR cycles, and flavors of the minute, that will be forgotten in five, sometimes what makes a record stand out can be counter-intuitive. Sometimes the more understated a record is, the more it stands out.
18 year old Tommy Floegel, from Phoenix, Arizona, claims that the original incentive behind The Highest Violet's self-titled debut was to combat boredom. A lifelong musician, Floegel has been playing with looper pedals and 8-tracks recorders since the age of 8, after falling in love with the guitar rock of Zeppelin, Floyd, Hendrix, Sabbath, and the Scorpions. He's been compared to Tame Impala, as well, but all of this makes The Highest Violet sound way more day glow and incense seeped than it actually is.
Honestly, had I read the press release first, they had me at the words "minor key tonality" and "very experimental", but the hook was unnecessary. From the sustained organ drone of album opener, "Demons (intro)", my nervous system was at attention. Sadly to say, even after hearing millions of records, listening to records is a lot like making friends - either it happens instantaneously and effortlessly, or it's not going to. There is just a mood about this album, that's difficult to place your finger on. Exotic-sounding chords and scales give everything a murky, mysterious, adventurous quality, and each element is wrapped in a nimbus of reverb, like watching a psychodrama in slow motion in some gargantuan subterranean cavern.
The Highest Violet may have been compared to Tame Impala, but The Black Angels is a closer touchstone. The Highest Violet is moodier, darker, doomier. That's not to say this is doom 'n gloom, or a downer record, far from it. Several songs, like "Like Night On The Sun" and especially "Tread Lightly", with its Beck meets Black Sabbath via Miles Davis soul groove, are likely to inspire impromptu dance parties. Hopefully on some obsidian beach at midnight.
While those may be the "jammers", most of the record stays in a slightly uptempo mellow groove, that is both mellow and relaxing, but still rocks, and always dripping with soul. Floegel's a hellacious guitarist, with solos that hit all the sweet spots, but never fall into excess. A model of restraint, like everything else on this record.
Floegel may be only 18, but he's an old soul. He's got a sweet, honeyed gravel voice, but is still intelligible. During the songwriting phase, Floegel plays every instrument himself, which just goes to show here is a man with a clear vision and a vivid musical imagination, and the chops to pull it off.
This may be the last The Highest Violet record with a hushed and humble press campaign, so we might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
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