What is old is new again, goes the adage. In popular culture, what is old never remains that way. Nostalgia for past eras not only continues unabated, but is also speeding up exponentially. In the late ’80s, nostalgia ran high for the ’60s. In the early ’90s, music turned to the ’70s, be it arena or punk rock. The last few years saw the reemergence of such prominent ’80s artifacts as Billy Idol, Echo and the Bunnymen, and New Order. But in just the last year or so, there has been evidence of nostalgia for the early ’90s. There was tons of press commemorating the tenth anniversary of albums like Pearl Jam’s Ten and of course, Nirvana’s Nevermind. And whether it’s the cheap, horrible-ness of a Creed, or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s beautiful Jesus and Mary Chain-like wash-of-sound, there is a distinct early ’90s feel to many of today’s newer groups. The High Violets, on their debut album, 44 Down, are very much cut from the same cloth as BRMC, their decade-old influences apparent.
The High Violets’ sound can be easily linked to many of their predecessors, from the Sundays and Ride to My Bloody Valentine and the aforementioned Jesus and Mary Chain. Like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the High Violets do not try to hide their influences, but revel in them. Unlike the Gallagher brothers and their leit-motif of knocking down those who obviously made them what they are, The High Violets will gladly tell you whose path they are following. All of this would be a moot point if it weren’t for the level of musical chops this band possesses. In many ways, this type of music gives rise to the musicians using their instruments to throw their particular colour on the mix, adding up to a glorious wall of sound. This includes the band’s two singers, Kaitlyn ni Donovan and Clint Sargent. Each uses their voice as another instrument, whether it’s ni Donovan’s airy, helium-like vocals or Sargent’s low tenor. Every song on 44 Down is a mid-tempo burner, kept interesting by the solid rhythm section of drummer Luke Strahota and bass player Allen Davis. Not only do they keep the tempo in check, but they add their own personalities to the mix through deceptively simple sounding patterns. When the songs go off into extended jams, Strahota and Davis keep things from going off the plot.
The extended jams of songs like “Colors” — and especially “Julia” — are stunning and head-nod inducing, in keeping with the traditions of shoegazer music (a fitting term ascribed to the aforementioned influential groups). Long, majestic-sounding outros of pure riffing were a trademark of bands like My Bloody Valentine. But also like them, The High Violets’ vocals are not always necessarily that clear, leaving the question mark of what a particular song is about, if anything. The vocals on 44 Down, especially those of ni Donovan, are almost unintelligible. The lyrics seem to be kept simple and repetitive, as the group understands that the overall sound is the thing, not the individual sound or instrument. It is the sound and form that are important, which give the music the ethereal feel they want.
The sound of 44 Down may not be necessarily new, but it is made with passion by a group with obvious musical ability, and here, it is passion that counts. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but The High Violets make this music their own. A song like the album’s closer, “Wheel”, could easily have been an outtake from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1992 album Honey’s Dead, but it still sounds fresh and interesting today. This is both a tribute to the original groups as well as to those carrying the torch. Given the hype for nostalgia these days, it might not be long before we look back at that period of the early 2000’s when rock re-emerged from teen-pop hell, and, given the chance, The High Violets may themselves be inspiration to an upcoming band. At the very least, they should be noted for bringing back a kind of music that had all but disappeared for a period, and doing it well. Shoegazers, your time has come (again).