Album Review: Highly Suspect – Mister Asylum

Review of Highly Suspect’s new album – Mister Asylum
By Hannah of

Pay attention to this album coming soon! Highly Suspect is a Brooklyn-Based trio with a big sound – I love the cynical band name, and the paranoid / creepy feeling of the opening track that perfectly sets the tone for their overall style. If you like Fall Out Boy (and you used to like Nine Inch Nails) you will really appreciate this album.  It has the modern production effect of something by Velvet Revolver; and frequently their style reminds me of that early 2000s rock sound brought back by Jet and the Strokes – but with contemporary genre-mixing and overall technical quality that you’d expect from something new.

The title track opens with rumbling, arpeggio-like hard-rock baselines (think “Army of Me”) and heavy, hard-crashing drums – the rhythms alternate intelligently as the vocals go from careful and singerly, to all-out screaming.  Haunting organ sounds back up the singer who is bluesy, gritty, and almost um, rapping at times, as he belts out “when you’re up against the world it shows”. You’ll be immediately reminded of Kings of Leon, with a slight touch of Third Eye Blind peeking through. The next track (“Lost”) just freaks out and starts rocking à la Red Hot Chili Peppers, with a baseline (and vocals) reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age, before breaking again into that bluesy, stylized feel.

Track #3 (“Lydia”) is one of the singles you may have already heard, with a reggae-esque rhythm laid down by punchy power-chords, and a lyrical-flow style of singing with enough emotion to carry proclamations like these: “I’ve seen better days, so unafraid in my youth / I can’t breathe, much less believe the truth”. Plenty of angry swearing and drug references give this already dark song a deeper quality – check out the music video if you want to see how raw and real these guys can be!  At times the instrumentation backs out and leaves the singer alone; voice cracking under the weight of all this song conveys.

Next is “Bath Salts”.  If the video for “Lydia” doesn’t give you nightmares, then these other song titles just might combine in your head for one really creepy dream.  This track feels like Muse’s “Uprising”, or something by Radiohead; with lyrics that plead “these muscle spasms hit me so deep every single night… no one told me which way to go – why can’t I come down?” This is followed by “23”, which is funky and sort of Rage Against The Machine in style. There’s finally just a taste of backing vocals on this track, adding just a bit extra. And there’s a weird reverb and echo effect on one of the breaks, right before the itchy and assonant guitar solo.

“Mom” is a weird departure from the other more aggressive songs on this album. It features major key chords, but with a buzzy reverberant guitar structure, and eerily dysfunctional lyrics that make you feel kinda guilty for listening in on this extremely personal song – “you kissed me on the head and left me out for dead, when I was only one”.  Yikes.  Not a bad song, but uncomfortable as intended. The delivery is full of strength and assurance, just like this line “I stand alone, I stand on my own; and I stand like a man.” I read a recent post from Johnny on the band’s FaceBook page that this “may be the most difficult song I’ve ever had to release. But, as I’m sure you guys are aware, we only write songs about real sh&t.”

The remaining songs are equally impressive, with moments of fast music but slow singing – not exactly like Gavin McGraw, but like Gavin if he decided to cut his hand with a rusty nail, toss back a shot of whiskey and pick up the microphone. I think he’d do a fair impression of Johnny on “Bloodfeather” in terms of the raucous, uninhibited way he just throws his voice out of his mouth and onto the mike – “In the name of love I’ll kill for you”. Wow! Next is a sassy and sexy song with lots of strong guitar and screaming, over more punky power-chords – basically the rock and roll’s version of a rap song about aggressive, anonymous hooking-up. The album is peppered with plenty of F-bombs, which seem necessarily part of not just the texture and feel but also the philosophy of this band – you almost need a certain amount of abandon to achieve this level of rock.

Track #9 (“Vanity”) opens with guitars à la Queen, and totally sounds like something I have heard before (in a good way). There is a shreddy guitar segue as the vocals start to howl – before kicking back into a more controlled interlude; probably one of my favorites on the album. And this all wraps up with “Claudeland” – drumrolls accelerate through the intro, before vocals pop open with a maniacal laugh and some blubbering. The style of this is a lot like the White Stripes, giving that classic freak-out feel that will make you want to jump up and down in the front of this show, singing along for sure when the singer yells out – “don’t worry about it – it’s not that bad!” There’s almost a Diamond Dave performance style here that is really fun.  I love that an album is closing with so much energy on the very last song!

This is an album I strongly encourage you to purchase – and start searching for tour dates! While none of these songs have the major-key, upbeat or fun feel that usually I prefer, the earthy-ness of this album is kind of refreshing. Like a thoughtful darker movie, or an old cracked leather jacket, or a drink that it is too strong.  Seeing this band live on a small tavern stage would be amazing – but it would be equally riveting in a large arena setting because yes – Highly Suspect has a sound that can really hold true and be engaging at any scale.

While you wait for the album’s release, you can stream it here.

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