London, England’s Highpoint Lowlife Records just might be one of the strongest and most interesting music labels I’ve come across in the last few years. With a smattering of compelling independent electronically-fused releases that are always packaged in beautiful art, Highpoint Lowlife has become a stronghold for electronic music in the UK and beyond. By “electronic”, we’re not talking about mindless beats over simplistic keyboard arpeggios. Rather, Highpoint Lowlife’s releases are consistently pushing the envelope, uniting songwriting, soundscapes, and other burgeoning musical forms with the electronic philosophy. What results are highly listenable, yet recklessly experimental releases that delight the audiences lucky or wise enough to hear them.
Highpoint Lowlife’s first full-band signing, Germany’s Like a Stuntman, continues in this strong tradition of melding musical moments with a sense of adventure in sound with their second full-length release, Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town. With eleven tracks clocking in at about 35 minutes, it’s clear from the start that Like a Stuntman revels in writing quick and catchy pop ditties. What sets this band apart, though, from so many other indie-pop bands is their utilization of electronic sounds and lo-fi hiss to give their music a sense of playfulness and unharnessed creativity. Electronic bleeps and strange sounds infuse the songs of Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town, augmenting the already well-played standard indie-rock instrumentation. This conglomeration of sounds creates a CD of material that somehow sounds organic, while retaining a distinct urban feel. “Warm-pop” electronics may be the best description of the music from this band, but whatever one wants to label it, it’s very fun.
A short few seconds of casio keyboard fuzz introduces the quick “We’re Not in Brazil”, a highly infectious song that is chock full of blips and electronic whirs, old school drum machines, as well as full band playing and great pop melodies and harmonies. In one minute, Like a Stuntman is able to fully introduce the listener to the music formulation of this band. “Park The Trailer In The Park” seems to reflect the beautiful cover art of Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town, which features a plastic toy camping set amidst fake little evergreen trees. The song is organic, with its sensitive chord structure and delicious melody, yet retains the elegant tackiness of low-fi keyboards and Atari-like sounds. “I Was Shocked When You Were Shocked” slows things down with a relatively stripped down song steeped in folk sensibilities (sort of!), and builds with a variety of impressively subtle and delicate electronic and instrumental sounds. As the song builds, it gradually drifts off to an ambient postlude, only to give way to the sound of someone strumming a simple guitar line. Beautiful. The quirky pop side of Like a Stuntman returns again with “Kingkongs”, which is one of the more straightforward songs on the disc (and even still, it contains a blooping electronic solo in the middle of the song that instantly adds depth to the song). Perhaps the most curious of the songs on Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town is “Making Competition Out of Everything”. A stripped down affair with a simple melody, lead vocalist S. Fritz quietly sings/speaks the things that Western society compares and fights over. It’s a startling combination of instrumental and melodic simplicity and thematic depth that leaves the listener thinking. However, the ruminations on the pitfalls of Western society quickly subside with the chunky “Let’s Talk About Horses”, whose first line in the midst of electronic accents and a 90’s Beck-sounding drum machine is “Let’s talk about horses, baby, let’s talk about horses”. The song builds, layer by layer (reminding me of the fuller songs on Manitoba’s Up In Flames), until it reaches to a soaring concoction of voices, instruments, and other sounds.
“Reduce” (also appearing on a 7” record from Highpoint Lowlife) is a less melodic song than many of the others on Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town, yet it’s simple melody allows Like a Stuntman a chance to flex their creative muscles a bit, and in the end, the song gorgeously caves in under its own weight, with Fritz crooning “For a second or less” under the decomposing sounds. “They’re Yellow and So Are Mine” starts out almost as a dance-electronica beat, before quickly giving way to a more jazzy feel. As strange as that metamorphism may sound, the band is able to pull it off with smart arrangements, including a beautiful understated picked acoustic guitar part by M. Gros. “Spain is Ok” features aggressive and inventive drum playing over a simple melody and the ever present bubbling electronics. Less a pop song than a study in moodiness, “Spain is Ok” features sections of ambience, dark electronics, and a chilling mood. “Here is Hell” is oh so wrongly titled, because the band focuses their remarkable arsenal of instruments and vocals to create the smoothest, dreamiest, and most ambient song on the disc. Beautiful atmospherics and a delicate melody eventually give way to keyboard hums, before the song drifts off to nothing. Finally, to round out Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town, Like a Stuntman presents “All Your Magazines”, which is a return to the more poppy side of the band’s sound. The band sings with a slight sense of wistfulness, but never allow their emotions to cloak their amusing electronics and smart arrangements.
By now it should be apparent that Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town is one of those very interesting CD’s that you should own. The material presented is catchy enough and fun enough not to go over listeners’ heads, but also contains the kind of experimentalism with sounds that usually go unreleased. With Fritz drawling over a hummable melodies, excellent playing, and tacky electronics, you can’t help but feel cool listening to Like a Stuntmen. Everything about Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town is what we love about indie music: it’s creative, it’s sincere, it’s irreverent, and it’s quite odd. Highpoint Lowlife have added yet another winner to their roster, and Fresh Air Is Not The Worst Thing In Town is highly recommended for fans of indie-pop and electronic music alike. Like a Stuntman is truly a burst of fresh air, and that’s not a bad thing at all. (Fans of Manitoba–Caribou, Frank Lenz, The Postal Service, and even Pavement will do good to listen to this disc).