[16 September 2003]
A little background is needed about the High Dials. A Canadian band, the group was originally called the Datsuns until a certain New Zealand band of the same name resulted in mass confusion for fans and band members alike. Instead of forging ahead and seeing who could outlast whom, the Datsuns (Canadian version) changed their name to the Datsuns Four, but it was short lived. Now, with a new name and a fresh, ‘60s-pop outlook on life, the High Dials certainly posses a devotion to bands like the Kinks and Brit popsters Blur, Pulp, and the under-appreciated Rialto.
The core quartet of Trevor Anderson, Rishi Dir, Robbie MacArthur and Robb Surridge begin with “Diamonds in the Dark”, a gorgeous pop-rock tune that recalls Simon and Garfunkel and the Monkees. Harmonies far too sweet and a slight jangle that is far too contagious, the High Dials is perfect summer driving fare. Groups like Fountains of Wayne, Matthew Sweet, and Velvet Crush would seek comfort in the melodies and overall vibe. Equally as strong about the album is how the band rarely lets up. “The Dead Hand” has a swinging-‘60s, Day-Glo, go-go dancer feel. Listening to it makes you feel Austin Powers will be popping out of the disc player shortly.
“Desiderata” falls into the same sonic era, although the sweetness of the harmonies brings the Beach Boys to mind. What separates the song is its length. Quite tight for the two minutes, the sound moves into a definite. It takes a slight detour that resembles Tommy James and the Shondelles circa “Crimson and Clover”. Although looser, it’s still quite pleasing to the ears. “T.V. Mystic” is early Beatles arrangements with just enough modern hooks to keep it attractive. “Darkness surrounds me like a sea”, the band sings as an eerie mood slips in, recalling early Pulp or Rialto.
If there is one slight fault in the record, it might be its length. At over one hour, it’s difficult to find a lot to complain about. Most bands are lucky to squeeze forty quality minutes for an album. But a song like “Antenna”, the fifth song of 18, is already going down a road that recalls one or two songs already played. The Middle Eastern flare and guitar work gives it a certain kick, but overall there isn’t much within the song to get excited about. “Can You Hear the Bells?” is an ominous track that has bells and is almost medieval in tone. It reeks of British pop smarts, whether in the subtle harmonies, the downbeat tone, or the generally melancholic groove.
“Fields in Glass” has the same funky, ‘60s pop attitude the Music has used to great benefit. While not quite as sharp or tight, the High Dials do an above-average job on this selection. “Leaving Alphaville” has a quasi-Spaghetti Western feel to it courtesy of the opening guitars. But the sound recalls the Byrds’ high harmonies and even, to a lesser extant, Tom Petty’s Wildflowers album. “Silas, Please Come Home” sounds a tad weary and comes off like a B-side. The High Dials don’t seem that jazzed about this track and it is rather obvious early on.
Fortunately, the highlight is “My Heart Is Black”, a great guitar riff that sets the tone for this great song. “Make a mockery of pride / Crush and forget you”, the High Dials sing between “do do do do”‘s and a chorus that Sloan would be envious of. This moves swimmingly into “The Birds”, which might be a subtle reference to who influenced this band. “Assassins”, with its whispering delivery and acoustic guitar, is quite orchestrated but never falters. “St. Marie” is a Pink Floyd-cum-Beatles arrangement that is breezy but big at the same time.
The concluding numbers have a bit of drag to them, but only because the listener’s attention span has been unfortunately placated with short albums that one can skip through for hit singles. “Morning’s White Vibration” is indeed light, but the horns are the song’s highlight, something the group could certainly get more from on this album and in a live setting. “Things Are Getting Better” has enough oomph under its sitars to get your mojo going. And if this song title is any sort of benchmark, things are definitely getting better for the High Dials. Yeah, baby, yeah!