Album Review: Highland Kites – All we left behind
Highland Kites have an atmospheric chill sound with unsettling, deeply existential lyrics. Marissa Lamar’s vocals crack and droop in places that give the band its unique sound. The music can sound like college rock, progressive rock, or even quirky pop at times. It all comes together for a unique sound that puts me in mind of The Pixies or Radiohead.
The opening few tracks “Small Frame” and “Now I’m Home” both have a sincere earthiness to them. “Small Frame” continuously reminds the listener “I’m only human.” Then “Now I’m Home” uses a nice, slower backbeat rhythm to make a point about a desire to get away from it all. In both songs, there’s an attempt to reconcile the difficulties of life. It’s a far more existential set of questions that often inhabits albums of this type.
“Black and White” features a nice piano line. Again, it’s a track dripping with philosophical imagery and questions. “Is this how it’s supposed to be?” The following “Broken” really reminds me of the kinds of reflections bands like Dashboard Confessional made back in the heyday of “emo.” Lamar writes, “How did we get so hollow? With nothing left to give or take. And I’m down here on my knees, begging please, but there’s nothing left to say.” It’s a feeling that a lot of people think out of a place of desperation. It’s sad, too.
“Intertwined” carries the familiar theme of love’s complexities and life’s difficulties. The song is full of uncertainty. Again the instrumentation is primarily a melancholic rock feel. “Empty Pages” seems to be the expression of some sort of breakdown. At its heart, the track seems to be expressing a desire for reconciliation and, maybe, even redemption.
“I don’t blame you” provides a repetitive refrain of the track title. It’s definitely a reflection on a broken relationship from the past. The minimalist piano part at the beginning of the track seems to suit the sincerity of the song nicely. Once the full band chimes in, the song somehow reminds me of something Amanda Palmer would have written. In keeping with the nostalgic theme, “Polaroids” also looks back at days gone by. Using some of the happiest chords on the album, this might be the best track on the album. It has a kind of hopeful reflection on what used to be at the beginning, but about halfway through the song it turns back to the deep melancholy of the rest of the album.
The penultimate track “Before You Leave” is a kind of musical letter. It is both confessional and command. The track has some beautiful atmospheric strings that seem to really make the song. I’d love to hear more of these strings from Kaitlin Wolfberg and Ken Oak. The last track “Bitter to Brilliant” caps the relational complexity of the full album. The last line, “I came alive for you. You’re still alive in me.” This explains the existential questions, the frustrated tone of many lyrics, and the overall melancholy of the album.
All told, this is an album for people who prefer darker themes in music. Lamar’s writing is much like the deeply personal reflections of someone’s journal. She provides insight into the complexity of human relationships in ways that many of us non-artists simply cannot grasp. This is an album that will have an audience among fans of alt rock, progressive rock, and emo.