High on Life


One night, someone threw a beer can at Mary Pearson of Brooklyn indie-pop duo High Places. She laughed. Thinking back on it, her bandmate, Rob Barber, stares into his tea and squints: “I mean, throwing something at us is like walking into a petting zoo and punching a baby deer.”

Fact: What High Places do is cuddly, but it’s also anomalous—doe-eyed, highly rhythmic psychedelia built from layered glass clinking, wayward vocals, and echoed thuds of cardboard boxes and small drums. The approach is 21st-century computer-aided D.I.Y.: “Ninety percent of the stuff we record is through the little hole,” Rob confesses. “You’re not supposed to tell people that!” Mary exclaims, sitting up abruptly. “I don’t care. I mean, that little hole is, like, great.”

That little hole is great—what’s really great is that High Places aren’t afraid to use it. The nine minutes of music on their first seven-inch present a weird sense of economy: Short pop songs made with household items on a shoestring budget recall Pacific Northwestern revolutionaries like Beat Happening, but somehow, Rob and Mary transpose folky minimalism into a lush, intimate world more synonymous with dance music, a dub record, or Martin Denny’s transportive exotica. “When we started, we wanted to be the most un–New York– sounding band we could be,” Rob says. “I thought we’d be invisible here.” But really, city folk probably have better jungle dreams than people actually living in the jungle—broadscape on a small scale makes perfect sense.

In any event, vaguely arty bands from Brooklyn aren’t supposed to be so unabashedly sweet, so sincere. Rob explains that he spent his teenage years on acid but now doesn’t touch drugs or alcohol. “I wondered why you couldn’t get that feeling by … well, take this tree here.” He grabs a leaf. “No, I’m not going to do that—that’d be so corny.” It’s a liability. But good, clean fun is an ambiguous goal. “We tried to make an instructional video about how you could have a great experience without doing drugs—” Mary relates. “But we realized it was just the trippiest thing,” Rob finishes.

For all the reasons High Places shouldn’t work, they do. They’ve become a fixture at small venues in Brooklyn, and have played out-of-the way shows at schools in Michigan and even a biker bar in remote Alaska. “I thought we were gonna get beaten up—two people told me it was the best night of their entire lives,” Mary beams. “Someone [at another show] in Michigan yelled, ‘Play some more inoffensive music!’ ” She laughs again. We all laugh.