highasakite-camp-echo

Highasakite: Camp Echo

Thanks to Ingrid Håvik's versatile and charmingly eccentric voice, Highasakite's Camp Echo stands apart from the glut of other indie synth-rock records vying for attention
Highasakite
Camp Echo
Propeller Recordings
2016-05-20

In 2013, Norwegian synth-rockers Highasakite burst onto the scene with a single forged from firestorm energy and sheer, eyes-to-the-horizon brawn. “Indian Summer” — a mix of Florence and the Machine anthemics and shimmering electro-pop à la Chvrches — was an explosive declaration of the band’s sound, difficult to ignore and nearly impossible to dislike. Sonically, it launched skyward with a chest-thumping amalgam of genre additives that still remains fundamental to the band’s approach today: indie-rock melodrama, frostbitten synth textures, and, of course, soaring, unstoppably propulsive chorus melodies that almost seem to tear out of the songs themselves and enter a different physical space altogether.

Yet, in both “Indian Summer” and Highasakite’s corpus as a whole, it’s Ingrid Håvik’s voice that demands the most attention. Starkly feminine, triumphant, edged with grit, capable of both canine-baring roars and emotive outbursts that border on full-on psychic breakdowns, it’s the instrument that distinguishes the band from other female-led groups with similar electronica-inflected dispositions.

“I will run like an Indian tomorrow,” she repeats, the mercury-igniting heat of this “Summer” not pressing against her skin, but raging beneath it: always on-the-rise, her voice flashes and glimmers and burns like a burgeoning flame that begins in her lungs and then surges outward in search of more oxygen to consume. This is an idea expressed concisely on the cover of the band’s latest LP; Håvik rears her head back, releasing an ink-black plume of smoke that has been festering within her ribcage. She seems relieved, but also wary that there is always more where that came from. 

In the album that bears this image, Camp Echo, Håvik remains centerstage. Without her dynamic presence and idiosyncratic vocal delivery, the LP would be a largely forgettable collection of mood-heavy, danceable synth-rock. With her, though, it’s something else, a work of restless imagination and emotional complexity. Throughout, the spotlight stays firmly fixed on her and the various smoke-figures and fire-formations issuing from her lips. 

Take “Deep Sea Diver”: it clips along at a lightning-fast tempo, allowing Håvik to test the elasticity of her voice against a relentless gear-straining beat. Each time she utters the title phrase, she seems to find a new pocket of meaning within it – another bit of depth, another impulse to go deeper. “My Mind Is a Bad Neighborhood”, while shadowed in a darker tone, similarly deploys a mile-a-minute synth jitter that seems to prod Håvik until she confesses her most personal vices.

“Someone Who’ll Get It”, the sprawling lead single, wields a comparable sonic formula but tells a different story. Here, the singer has an added element of desperation in her voice; the heat in her chest has now reached a nearly unbearable apogee. Across the track’s duration, she beseeches someone — some amorphous divinity or perhaps an abstracted version of herself — to send her a life-saving companion. “Send a soldier / Someone who’ll get it / Someone who’ll get it,” she sings, a cascade of synth washes whirling behind her, drum blasts testing her balance, and as her words become echoes, her real desires crystallize before you: she wants someone to burn inside like her, to burn with her, for her, someone who “will run like an Indian tomorrow” straight into her red-hot marrow.

Even in the album’s most euphoric moments, there is a current of desperation like this, when Håvik seems to be on the verge of a self-destructive meltdown but forges on regardless. “I Am My Own Disease” is a prime example of this phenomenon. It sounds nothing like you would expect it to: its lyric foregrounds a self-loathing ex-lover, but its melody is boundlessly heroic, its pace confident, and Håvik’s voice brims with hopeful conviction. While often left ambiguous, it’s this type of emotional nuance that turns Camp Echo into an active listening experience — which is to say, it’s never clear if you should read more into Håvik’s words, or simply let them flicker and burn out in front of you.

RATING 6 / 10
PopMatters