Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
The High Country
Polyvinyl Records, 2015
Springfield, MO indie band, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (SSLYBY) has a new album in the can and now it’s just a matter of waiting for it to hit the streets. The High Country will be out June 2 (2015).
The one thing that hits you upon listening to The High Country is how raw, gritty, distortion-infused and, well, damn catchy it is. There’s something spirited, a little rougher around the edges, but smoothed out by the catchy hooks and the laid-back vocals. One thing that does differentiate this album from their previous works is that on The High Country SSLYBY manages to convey, via the studio, an element missing from other albums: some of the essence of their live shows, at which the amps are turned way up, the polish of the studio is taken away so that you get less of a sheen over it and more of a true, spirited and maybe even a more honest take.
Their last album, 2013’s Fly By Wire is even a different animal from this new one. That one, as well as their whole catalog has been full of songs that, stripped down and played live, would, no doubt, have a similarity to The High Country. The songs themselves, most of them, anyway, have catchy pop hooks, clever lyrics and great foundations from where to start. When you listen to, say, Fly By Wire and hear songs like “Harrison Ford” or “Cover All Sides”, for example, the underlying structures of the tunes are such that, indeed, they would make for great live show fodder. The problem, I think, was that the producer and the band, as willing accomplices, went a tad too far in polishing things up in the studio, I know that somewhere in there, maybe on a riff here or a hook there I caught little Beatle-esque moments: but, of course, there is and will always only be one Beatles. Other places overdubbed atmospherics, layers of pillowy sheen, meant to clean things up, bring a textured listening experience forward, ended up, instead, clouding up what were, otherwise good songs, as has been shown in their live gigs.
This time out, though, a new approach is heard. Instead of letting the studio take over as an extra instrumental figure, SSLYBY decided to go full throttle and let their hair down for this album. The High Country sees the return of bassist Tom Hembree, a founding member of the band who departed SSLYBY after their Broom album. According to frontman, Phil Dickey (vocals/guitar), it was the returning Hembree who insisted on “stir[ring] things up in the best way possible and demand we play louder and faster. Well, it turned out to be a wise choice to listen to Tom. The result has been the first studio album by SSLYBY that tones down the polishing effects that the studio can create and instead has fresh, more “live” sound; more guitar-heavy and with a lot of the previous atmospherics and textured layers that sometimes just ended up obscuring songs that were, in themselves, good songs, ones that, no doubt, came off great live: no cloudy effects murking up otherwise clever, wry and indie-pop tunes. The first few tunes, “Line On You”, “Step Brother City” and “Goal Mind” all grab at you, shake you by your lapels until you jump up and down. Hell, the whole thing really has a great ring to it.
Those who have been long-time SSLYBY fans, familiar with their live shows, will, I’m sure, really dig The High Country. This is probably their best album to date. The production and engineering were much more sympathetic to the gist of the songs as they were written. The only thing that may be a bummer here is that the whole album clocks in at a mere 26 minutes; that’s 11 songs, at an average of 2 ½ minutes long. But it’s better to have a short album full of great stuff than one that’s too long by half, with achingly dull, droll studio-tanned material.
This is definitely a keeper. One to hold on to for a rainy day when you need a bit of inspiration or cheering up. -KM.